‘Hair’ musical inspires today’s youth with 1960s-era sociopolitical messages
Don’t be fooled by its frivolous-sounding name as this was perhaps one of the most scandalous, daring and provocative musicals to hit the University’s at Albany’s Performing Arts Center. “Hair” debuted on campus on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., being a fusion of politically-charged visuals, a racially-diverse cast and a thought-provoking message that still matters in today’s disquieting world.
Originally premiering off Broadway back in October 1967, “Hair”—promoted as the “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”—chronicles the resistance of the so-called “Age of Aquarius,” a bunch of young hippies sporting long hair, who disapprove of being conscripted to the Vietnam War. For UAlbany, there were several scheduled performances, running from March 22 through 25, acted by students and some faculty.
The political attacks even began before the actual performance as four students appeared by the audience’s seats with posters about current sociopolitical movements and chants like “Black Lives Matter,” “Love Trumps Hate” and “Immigrants are Welcome Here!” It already embodied how conscious these students are about today’s politics, especially in regards to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The theater was also slightly filled with fog, which served its purpose once the performance actually started and a lone light shined brightly from center stage, its radiance successfully spreading through the mist. It wordlessly proved how important production value was in this performance.
Speaking of production, the set showed what appeared to be the backside of rundown bricked apartment buildings in New York City, filled with graffiti of a raised fist and the peace symbol. It also provided a safe haven for the inhabiting hippies, a metaphor for how they’ve turned their backs to mainstream American culture.
The ensemble cast was filled with many intriguing members. All of them were passionate in their dramatics, unafraid to be physically and verbally obscene, fully embodying their characters. The audience itself almost became part of the production as around me, audible gasps left stunned mouths and hands were placed over chests and ajar lips. This was due to cast members uttering the N-word with abandon, literally dry humping the stage or one another or even showing skin.
“Masturbation is fun!” A cast member loudly exclaimed as a fellow member was shoved to his groin area, perhaps the epitome of obscenity this musical is unafraid of shying away from.
“Hair” seemed to center mostly on Claude though, played by Jon Liuzzo, who specifically disliked the conscription which frustrated his conservative parents. Herein lied the heart of the musical as Claude wanted to embrace free love and independence but his father believed that going to the Vietnam War will “make a man out of him” while his mother believed that drugs, sex and his hippie friends are bad influences. His struggle between following his heart and pleasing his parents culminated in him deciding whether to burn his draft card.
The performance took a whimsical turn when Claude ingested a hallucination-inducing joint, giving him visions of famous American historical figures. Such figures were comically acted out by other cast members, portraying the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Aretha Franklin and John Wilkes Booth. The audience notably looked confused and even laughed when more random figures appeared onstage like Catholic nuns, monks and Native Americans.
Sure, this musical is quite dated as it was taking place in the 1960s. Its radiantly hippie-themed wardrobe and style spoke to how the characters rebelled against conventional fashion, thanks to Raymond J. Torres (wig and hair designer) and Reneé Bell (costume designer). But the messages still remain relevant today, circling back to the anti-Trump and passionate protests prior to the performance earlier. Regardless of what each audience member’s political views were, the musical’s messages were loud and clear.
“Hair” seemed to advocate freedom to love whomever one desires, to practice drugs and casual sex, to rebel against conservative and also mainstream culture, and to protest against whatever one disagrees with (in this case, mainly conscription). After all, the 1960s were a prominent decade that dealt with social and political reform.
The characters also explained that their freedom to grow out their own hairs was like a metaphor for their freedom of choice, hence the musical’s title.