Theater review: ‘Hair,’ by Penn State Centre Stage

By JACK FELIX

Sun-Gazette Correspondent

STATE COLLEGE – It’s apparent that “Hair” will “Let The Sunshine In” the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St.

Penn State Centre Stage will present “Hair,” the American “love-rock” musical at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday at the theater in downtown State College.

The original 1968 production created by Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, which won the Grammy Award for Best Score From an Original Cast Album and shocked audiences with its vivid portrayals of sex, drug use, nudity and blatant challenges to racism and the Vietnam War. The 2009 revival also copped a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Broadway Musical.

Set in New York City in 1968, “Hair” follows a tribe of free-loving, hard-partying hippies, including Berger and Claude. Mainly interested in dropping out, hooking up and tripping out, the bohemians’ lifestyle is upended when Claude gets drafted. As a young pacifist, Claude must decide whether to give into the tribe’s urgings to burn his draft card, or give up to his stern parents and the older generation’s pressure to serve in Vietnam.

The large, interracial cast is composed of current Penn State school of theater students, including a couple who already have obtained their Actors Equity card. With its almost hypnotic energy on stage and up and down the aisles, the cast seemingly in constant motion turns “Hair” into a show like no other, reaffirming the joy and heartache of the turbulent times of the 60s.

Although no one can deny that the sensitive Claude and the charismatic Berger head the cast, “Hair” really is an ensemble production, with several character’s solos stirring last weekend’s opening night audience. Strong performance are turned in by the fretful Crissy, the defiant Hud, the fiercely protesting Shelia and a dozen more, with brief appearances by the KKK, a trio of singing nuns, the Founding Fathers and Margaret Mead in drag.

While recognizing that “Hair” was a production “of its time,” third year master’s degree in directing candidate Emmy Frank directs this production as a joyful piece of living theater. Aquila Kikora Franklin’s choreography ably shows off the cast’s physical agility with complex dance movements, often with a touch of acrobatics.

Music director Beth Burrier, perched on one of the platforms, plays the keyboard and conducts the small on-stage band.

Getting the loudest applause and a few hoots and hollers are likely the most recognizable “Good Morning Starshine,” and the the anthemic powerful pop classics “Aquarius” and “Let The Sunshine In,” which open and close the show.

Perhaps with an abundance of caution, PSCS offers an alert: “Hair” contains explicit content, nudity, drug references, sexual references and violence. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted without PSU ID or parent-guardian consent.

There’s no need for concern, however, as the nudity is tastefully done, with the stage lights so dimmed at the Act I finale that it is difficult to see which cast members have partially or fully disrobed.

For those who believe that this production is nothing more than a feel-good musical, or that it is not relevant today as it was in the Vietnam era, Penn State Centre Stage’s “Hair” is a must-see – however, as a replacement for the previously announced “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Hair” has turned into a box-office bonanza.

The theater’s marketing department has confirmed that the run is sold out, with no possibility of extending the play dates.

That’s the downside for those who have never witnessed the experience of “Hair,” a show whose spirit is timeless.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.theatre.psu.edu.