Making the 60s Come Alive Again
June 1, 2017
When Andy Planck was choosing the first season for Three Rivers Music Theatre, the one thing he knew was that the summer musical would be Hair. It had been his mother's favorite musical, and he had left his promising New York theater career to take care of her when she was diagnosed with cancer. His brilliant and loving direction brings together a diverse group of the regional all-stars who fully embrace the message of the show: peace, love and acceptance.
What little plot the musical has revolves around Claude (Jordan Gameon), a pacifist who is torn between burning his draft card along with his fellow hippies or caving in to his parents' conservative belief in fighting in Vietnam. In a sort of vaudevillian style reminiscent of Godspell, the characters introduce themselves to the audience through a variety of songs about love, sex, drugs, race and social injustice.
Although distinctly a period piece that sometimes plays as naïve, silly or even offensive (a pregnant woman smoking pot, a man slapping his girlfriend, a song about the wonders of LSD), Hair is remarkably relevant today. Not just about drugs, free love, and Vietnam, the musical also touches on such topics as gay rights, feminism, race relations and free speech.
This is also one of the most sensual productions you're likely to see in Fort Wayne. There's a lot of touching in the show - the performers are almost constantly touching one another (or audience members). As you may be aware, there is a very brief moment of nudity at the end of the first act. Lest that deter you, the cast is in near-darkness with the spotlight focused on Claude, who is standing in the house. Many opening night audience members completely missed it. It is a tasteful and beautifully staged moment that depicts the tribe's sense of freedom and full acceptance of themselves and one another.
The cast features a dizzying array of professional talent. Deborah Moore starts the show off strongly, singing "Aquarius." Her voice is gloriously breathtaking. Aaron Mann is charismatic as the desperately self-conscious anarchist Berger, the leader of the hippie tribe, who gets up close and personal with the audience. Gameon brings a tragic humanity to Claude, and he sings his songs beautifully. Nick Chaney (Woof) and Paige Matteson (Crissy) add a refreshingly youthful sweetness. Prentis Moore (Hud), MoMo Lamping (Jeanie), and Kat Hickey (Sheila) round out the leading players, and each give powerful and effective performances. Nick Abbott, Mary Alberding, and Reuben Albaugh are hilarious in their roles as the older generation. Evan Hart has several standout moments, both vocally and in background bits throughout the show. Renee Gonzalez and Nick Walters shine during their beautifully harmonized duet, "What a Piece of Work Is Man" during Act 2.
The rest of the tribe (Isaac Becker, Ennis Brown, Jensen Davis, Nico DiPrimio, Nathan Driscoll, Brock Graham, Tyler Hanford, Kayley Alissa Hinen, Maggie Leavell, Rayna Long, Daisy Paroczy Hickey, Carleen Reynolds, Amber Rudolph, Angela Shaw-Watson, Erin Tomlinson, and Stephanie Vanderwall) each deserve paragraphs dedicated to their performances. The vocal balance, harmony, energy, passion and camaraderie are perfect and infectious.
Music director Tommy Saul leads a talented orchestra that collaborates with the singers, never overpowering them. Olivia Ross' beautiful choreography keeps the cast moving in visually compelling ways. The colorful set (designed by Robert Shoquist) and costumes (Jeanne Pendleton), lighting design (Derek Bever), sound design (Skyler Willis) and projection (Brock Alan Eastom) also support the production without taking away from the overall performance.
Aside from the brief (and, again, dimly-lit) nudity, drug references, religious satire and profanity, audience members near the center aisles should be prepared to interact with the cast and wear their dancing shoes in case they'd like to join the "be-in."
Director Planck took on an ambitious show with a huge cast for his sophomore production at Three Rivers Music Theatre. This production proves that he and the professional caliber of Fort Wayne's performers have the vision and the talent to sustain the company for many years to come.
My only complaint about the show is that there is so much to look at, you can't take it all in. I might just have to go see it again.