1967 — the beginning of what I know as the world. There was of course a ‘before,’ but I just remember the fire in the eyes of so many young people who saw something previous generations hadn’t.
What had set the blaze? Lies. So many lies. Or, were they traditions? Or both?
Out of this inferno rose the phoenix of resistance. Some was violent, some peaceful, but all of it was passionate and truly, deeply felt. Then, it seemed, as the 1970s begat the ’80s those with the fire in their bellies forgot the flames. They seemed to have been extinguished by the cool torrent of upward mobility.
In that moment, in 1967, there was passion. A passion that blazed across the stage in New York’s Central Park on Joe Papp’s Public Theatre Stage. “Hair,” the first rock musical, was raw, uncensored, and real. I have been told by people who worked on the original production that even they didn’t know what it was they were working on.
They couldn’t make heads or tails of the piece. It was revolutionary in so many ways. From the organic and improvised direction style to nudity in a legitimate theatrical piece, it broke ground.
This month at The Long Beach Playhouse the "tribe" is reborn in the bodies and hearts of Millienials, Gen X and Gen Z. The blaze is now a torch carried by those who face the same lies, but not all of the traditions. The draft is no longer the imminent threat displayed in the line, "the draft is white people sending black people to make war on the yellow people to defend the land they stole from the red people.” Yet, it still has a ring of truth.
Which is how the piece seems to function now. It doesn’t baffle the audience, they aren’t coming to ogle at the weirdos — they are the weirdos. This Gen Xer was surrounded on all sides by boomers, some in tie-dyed shirts, cheering and interacting with the cast in a willful act of time travel.
The cast is truly talented and full of energy and ernest hope. They fill this now historic piece, that could seem hermetically sealed, with all the vigor they possess. Strong voices all, sometimes pushed a bit far, lends to the visceral experience.
It is interesting to see folks whose lives have been a little more free and a little more honest inhabit the vestiges of those who opened the doors to that way of life. These are folks who, I dare say, may never have lived life to the Hippie extreme, but have had access to all the trappings and maybe managed them a little better.
Usually, I laud the standouts, but here the Tribe has made that impossible for me. Thanks to the solid and obviously inspirational direction by Robin Jay, they have become one. The tribe and all its constituent members are delightful.
This show's music is all over the map and though it was the first rock opera, spawning the genre, it is difficult to sing. While the cast is not always perfect in their musical execution, they never fail to deliver emotional content.
It is this sincerity that leads me to lament that not all the long hair was real, and not only not real, some were not very good wigs. In a world full of drag queens who have brought the lace front wig even to Party City, when your musicals title is “Hair,” you better deliver the goods.
I am however grateful that through the efforts of the cast in their cohesion with great leadership by Sonya L. Randall (choreography) and Stephan Olear (music director), they reminded me that resistance does lead to change even if the fire burns slowly.
"Hair" continues through Nov. 16 on the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Stage. Curtain is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.
The Studio Theater is on the second floor, and is only accessible by stairs; there is no elevator.
Tickets, $14-$24, are available at www.lbplayhouse.org, or by calling 562-494-1014, option 1.