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Thursday, May 22, 2014

’60s Spirit Alive and Onstage

Skylight’s production of the decade-defining ‘Hair’

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Photo by Mark Frohna
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Skylight Music Theatre closes its revolution-themed season with the 1968 classic, Hair. Creators James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot sought to capture the hippie spirit of their time in this work, which was deemed revolutionary for its incorporation of rock ’n’ roll music, unconventional structure and explicit treatment of taboo subjects such as sex, illegal drug use and racial injustice.

Skylight’s production lives up to the creators’ intent, presenting the ideas of the free-loving, anti-war flower children with passion and artistic mastery. The work is visually stunning with a two-tiered set by Lisa Schlenker featuring large, hand-painted murals, ladders and a firehouse pole. The “Tribe” of performers uses the space to great effect as the serious playground it is, ideal both for lounging and partying and the enactment of provocative vignettes. Shima Orans’ costume design—heavy on vintage pieces and creatively decorated natural materials—effectively summons the ’60s zeitgeist as well. The live orchestra cinches the immediacy vital to this show.

Music Director Viswa Subbaraman and Stage Director Ray Jivoff have drawn out numerous star-level performances from the large ensemble. Especially scintillating are Raven Dockery (Dionne), Ryan Cappleman (Woof), Alison Mary Forbes (Sheila), Sherrick Robinson (Hud), Alex Mace (Berger) and Doug Clemons (Claude).

Dockery’s performance in the opening number, “Aquarius,” is soulful, inspiring and almost maternal—she presides over the Tribe, engulfing them in her diaphanous orange wrap. Cappleman shines in “Sodomy,” a cleverly staged number that humorously lists—and demonstrates—the numerous sexual activities the flower children worked to divest of shame. Forbes, meanwhile, brings gravitas to the show in her role as a passionate student activist; her delivery of the disarmingly sweet “Good Morning Starshine” perfectly summons a generation’s collective grief at the loss of thousands of young lives to the Vietnam War. Robinson, as a black militant, treats on a similarly serious theme in “Colored Spade,” a hard-hitting number listing the innumerable racial slurs levied against African Americans over America’s history. Mace and Clemons, as the principal characters, excel in many numbers, consistently realizing the twin face of the hippie spirit—fearless rebellion and encompassing humanitarianism.

Hair runs through June 8 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit skylightmusictheatre.org.