Halfway through Friday night's performance of Hair at the Lucas Theatre, it came to me: It's not about the big songs, "Aquarius," "Easy To Be Hard," "Good Morning Starshine," and how well they're delivered. It's not about costumes, wigs or cool sets. It's not about standout individual performers.
No, what makes Hair work, what elevates it to a higher level of musical theater, is the vibe. There are more than 20 people onstage, for nearly the entire show, and in a perfect Hair world they function as a single character.
The theater world is "ensemble," the Hair word is "tribe." But once this group - and that includes the ostensible lead players - establishes the vibe, you can't take your eyes off them, you get involved, and you're emotionally invested in the show.
Congratulations to SCAD and director Michael Wainstein for understanding this. Their Hair is wonderful, fully satisfying, and more than just a painted trip down the memory lane of hippie-dom.
Set in 1968, Hair is funny, irreverent and heartbreaking. A group of dropout kids gathers in a seedy area of New York City to celebrate life, love and each other through song and dance (OK, don't forget this is theater, not real, actual life).
The specter of Vietnam, and the draft, hangs over their heads, especially when Claude Bukowski gets called up. The rest of his buds are happily burning their draft cards but Claude, with his parents' voices ringing in his ears, is considering going off to war.
This, of course, sets him against Berger and the other tribe members.
Burly B. Todd Johnson and rail-thin Zach Allie are perfectly cast as the arrogant Berger and the doubtful Claude. Both have strong singing voices and both have the charisma to convince you that the other members of the tribe would consider them "leaders." And they have a palpable chemistry together, like an unkempt Abbott & Costello.
I've seen a half-dozen productions of Hair over the years, and this was the first time I was really able to focus on the "smaller" songs, the lesser-known ones like "Walking in Space," "What a Piece of Work is Man," "Electric Blues" and "I Got Life."
That's because this cast, working together as a unit, held my attention from one scene to another and made me care about the things they were singing about. Their group harmonies - and duets, and trios and so forth - were so good they were chilling.
A few name checks: Kudos to Ashley Pinnock, Ryan Ortega, Matt Higgins, George Lovett, Karen Thorla, Gaylana Castillo and Derrick Antwuan Roper. You rocked my Friday.
Vincent Brosseau's choreography, simple but tremendously effective, keeps the tribe (and the show) moving at a brisk pace. Indeed, Hair rarely sits still for very long, and the cast's exuberance is infectious.
A few nitpicks:
The live band, so necessary because of the level of immediacy it adds, was occasionally louder than the vocalists, who were miked the whole time. Indeed, the face-microphones were dodgy at Friday night's show, sometimes dropping out for a few seconds in the middle of a song.
Ideally, the male actors in Hair would have the time to "grow their own," giving the cast a natural look (that's kind of the point, isn't it?) But these are well-groomed college kids who have to wear wigs.
Along with the sound issues, this is my only criticism of the production. The guys wearing hippie wigs (that is to say, most of them) are also wearing headbands. Which look, pretty obviously, like they're there for no other reason than to keep the wigs from falling off.
Having said that, I consider this a Friday night well spent. Here's hoping the SCAD crew will keep the vibe alive and bring us Rent next. There's another show with hair-raising vibe to spare.
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. May 14 and 20-21; at 3 p.m. May 15 and 22
Tickets: $20 general admission, $15 with senior, military or student ID, $5 with valid SCAD ID.
Phone: (912) 525-5050