REVIEW: Glow Lyric Theatre’s Electrifying ‘Hair” is Anything But Static after 50 Years

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Gavin Carnahan stars as Claude in “HAIR.”

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Fifty years after its Off-Broadway premiere, “HAIR” the ultimate counterculture musical is still poignant as ever. One might say Glow Lyric Theatre’s exhilarating revival at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville is fresh as a daisy on a hippie flower crown in the Haight-Ashbury.

And what more fitting show than “HAIR” to headline the bold theme of “Question Authority” in Glow’s 7th season as South Carolina’s only professional opera company.

With an expanded summer festival in 2017, “HAIR” will be presented in repertory with the English-language opera “The Crucible” and the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Gondoliers” through July 30.

Like other groundbreaking shows from the Vietnam War era (“Oh! Calcutta!” and “Godspell” for example), “HAIR” is extremely malleable. And like DNA, no two “HAIR”s are ever remotely the same.

Fortunately for Glow audiences, Artistic Director Jenna Tamisiea has crafted this “HAIR” experience with a thrilling and audacious slickness, and with an outstanding group of young artists who prove the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As a collective group, this dynamic band of East Village hippies rage together with precision and, with such organic unity, that they evoke a rare symbiotic voice like a real commune itself. There isn’t a weak link or solo in this East Village tribe, whose members are appearing in one or two other Glow summer productions this month.

Kevin Ray Cohen is Hud in “HAIR.”

And Tamisiea, who also choreographs “HAIR,” masterfully constructs – from this non-linear and far-out material by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot – a musical journey of movement and emotion that is both polished and riveting.

Fresh on the heels of her acclaimed staging of “Spring Awakening” at The Warehouse Theatre in May,  Tamisiea is practically a veteran of avant-garde theatre, having just devised an original work this Spring in Asheville called “Pulse,” inspired by the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

Glow Co-founder and Executive Director Christian Elser is music director for “HAIR” and conducts this show’s 30-plus numbers at a brisk pace and rewards his audience with stellar vocal artistry and precision as the tribe executes one extraordinary composition after another: the monster acid-pop hit “Aquarius” (lead by the splendidly commanding Shanelle Woods, the accomplished mezzosoprano who also sings the pivotal role of Tituba in “The Crucible,” the bubble-gum clarity of “Good Morning Starshine,” and the joyful scat singing in “The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In” as this ebullient ensemble files out triumphantly in the finale.

“HAIR,” tackles many, many themes from the environment (“Air”), racism(“Colored Spade”), drug experimentation (“Hashish”), and sexual freedom (“Sodomy”),to the Vietnam War (“Don’t Put It Down”), which is ceremoniously and brazenly displayed in the burning of their draft cards during the “Be-In/Hare Krishna” scene.

But the true moments of greatness come when authentic sincerity shines through this fine, diverse ensemble in acts that do “Question Authority” and  reference movements like Black Lives Matters, whether it’s holding protest signs, singing and dancing with the pulsing rhythms of “I’m Black/Ain’t Got No” or scoring with the 1960s rock aesthetic of “Black Boys” and the groovin’ funk of “White Boys.”

A deft and wide-open Waseem Alzer plays the eccentric tribe leader Berger, who lives clothing-optional and from trip to trip. Gavin Carnahan stars as the sweet-natured Claude from Queens who is about to be drafted and pretends that he is British in his amusing and irresistible  pop ditty “Manchester England.”

“HAIR” features Anna Jane Trinci as the pregnant Jeanie; Katerina McCrimmon as the outspoken NYU student protestor Sheila; and a committed Mitchell Bradford as Woof, the free spirit with an unhealthy attraction to Mick Jagger.

Two performers who just wrapped up “Spring Awakening” with Tamisiea, drop-in and tune-out with this ensemble. Kevin Ray Jones, as the Black Pantheresque militant Hud, simply astounds in “Electric Blues” and Cat Richmond, a serious soprano who is expanding her foray into musical theatre, lends her heavenly voice as the siren in “Be-In (Hare Krishna),” and all while being hoisted nearly upside down by her mates.

Paige Vasel is Chrissy in “HAIR.”

The Tribe also includes Sonni James, who appeared in last year’s production of “Romeo é Juliette”; Jena Brooks returning after “West Side Story” last season; a pining Paige Vasel as Chrissy in the solemn “Frank Mills” ballad; baritone Nicholas Hawkins in his second year with Glow; and Tierney Breedlove now in her third season in Greenville.

Perhaps “HAIR” doesn’t hold the same shock value 50 years out, but this is an 18+ production nonetheless and is not recommended for children. The cast has a tastefully-executed surprise in store as well. Kudos to the cast for their dedication and willingness to step out of their … comfort zone for the sake of art.

For more information about the impressive cast , visit http://www.glowlyric.com/artists/season-ensemble/

This production is heavy on appropriately euphoric mood lighting (Kevin Frasier), especially during the “trips” and the Vietnam sequences.

Henry Wilkinson’s stage design evokes a sprawling commune flat with oriental rugs and Mexican blankets draping the tiered platforms. Justin Hall is costume designer of the convincing hippie attire. Kerryn Stroud is props designer, James Bretimeier is sound designer, and Jessica Karnes is stage manager.

The outstanding live band in this production includes Elser on organ, Andrew Welchel on keyboard, Zac Bolton on guitar, Samuel Kreuer and Shannon Hoover on bass, Chris Earle on percussion and Tom Dolamore on drums.

“Hair!” runs in repertory with “The Crucible” and Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” through Sunday, July 30 at the Fine Arts Center, 102 Pine Knoll Drive in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 558-4569 or visit www.glowlyric.com/tickets.

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