The powerful new production of “Hair,” closing this Music Circus season, shows what a great musical the 1968 snapshot can be, even if it’s not exactly a perfect play.
At its best, as it is here, “Hair” shows the hopeful, confusing freedom of joyous youth struggling with the hard-edged realities of an often-unforgiving world. There’s an overwhelming energy and sensual spectacle of the book and lyrics of James Rado and Gerome Ragni heightened by Galt MacDermot’s varied, memorable score. Though the music can push the slight story into the background, the overall effect was glorious.
Director Glenn Casale’s evocative production luxuriates in the moody anthemic opening of “Aquarius” with native Sacramentan Danielle Moné Truitt leading the 24-member ensemble Tribe onstage. Sensational singing dominates the evening with standout turns from leads Oliver Thornton (Claude), Peter Saide (Berger), Laura D’Andre (Sheila) and Bryonha Marie Parham (Dionne). Much of the first act is taken up with clever, tuneful character-driven songs such as Berger’s “Donna,” Claude’s “Manchester, England,” Hud’s “Colored Spade” (by Omari Tau) and Sheila’s aching ballad “Easy to Be Hard.”
We see a group of young people defining themselves in reaction to the culture that doesn’t know what to make of them. We see what they care about in “I Believe in Love” and “I Got Life” and how they think they fit in “Hair.” The songs tell us who’s onstage, though not so much why. Gradually, we learn Claude’s been drafted and is unable to burn his draft card and ignore the summons as his friends around him have done.
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Casale’s production effectively uses video projections to remind us that 1968 was in part defined by America’s controversial fighting presence in Vietnam refracted by the domestic turmoil being experienced at home. That year also saw the previously unthinkable assassinations of political leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, which aren’t directly referenced but are dark shadows that mingle with the euphoria of the play’s life-affirming celebration.
The play’s mesmerizing second half surges through the theater depicting a satiric, psychedelic experience that morphs into a vision of the somber chill of war. Sprinkled throughout are terrific songs and performances, including a duet between Jessica Crouch and Truitt on the Shakespearean theme “What a Piece of Work Is Man” and D’Andre’s “Good Morning Starshine.”
Then come moments of grace in the moving finale of “Eyes Look Your Last,” “The Flesh Failures” and the triumphant “Let the Sun Shine In.”
What: Music Circus production of the ground-breaking rock musical written by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermott; directed by Glenn Casale
When: 7:30 p.m. daily through Aug. 23; also 2 p.m. Aug. 20, 22 and 23
Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento
Information: 916-557-1999; SacramentoMusic
Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Content advisory: Sexual and drug references; brief nudity