Filth, Frustration, Song and Dance

Sunset Playhouseís HAIR

Jul. 17, 2010
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I think (I hope) I managed to do a pretty good job of writing a balanced review of Sunset Playhouse's†Hair for next weekís issue of the Shepherd. This in spite of the fact that I honestly donít like the musical . . . but as easy as it is to dismiss a glossy, commercial Broadway adaptation of a raw, experimental culture late Ď60ís counter-culture, one has to respect the difficulty of the dichotomy.

It is exceedingly difficult to finesse a production of a musical that straddles to opposing aesthetics. Ď60ís counter-culture was, as I understand it, an attempt to get to the underlying truth of thingsóthe fundamental ecstasy of the true and truly interconnected reality beneath all the hate and negativity that had become so institutionalized. It was messy and passionately frustrated with the way things were. By contrast, the aesthetic typical of a Broadway-style musical openly embraces artifice. The most intense emotions meticulously flow out of carefully crafted song and dance that masks the raw intensity of human emotion.

The two aesthetics seem so completely at odds with each other, which is amplified by the fact that thee was experimental theatre in the Ď60ís that should be remembered and revisited onstage. Though there is genuine emotion and anger in the musical, it is wrapped in a glossy package meant for popular consumption. While Rado, Ragni and MacDermot were putting together Hair, there were people working on progressive experimental work that directly engaged and challenged the audience. Retro fashion tends to focus on the kitschier elements of an era. The organic theatre movement, for example, is largely forgotten in the favor of the eraís substantially sanitized theatrical contribution. †††

But itís not like I havenít enjoyed the musical before. The recent UWM production felt a little bit more dynamic for me, but that has a lot to do with the physical geometry of the UWM Mainstage Theatre. A thrust stage with numerous entrances, the UWM theatre brings the tribe that much closer to the audience. Berger could nestle himself in a corner of the stage and address the audience in a far less formal way than talented, young actor Zach Woods was allowed by the Sunset Playhouseís somewhat stiff proscenium. The intimacy of that production was charming even for someone who didnít find the musical all that interesting as a whole. The Sunset production approaches this effect in places. I canít fathom how the touring Broadway production of the musical would have anywhere near that kind of effect when it comes to the immensity of the Marcus Center next season. . . .

The Sunset Playhouseís production of Hair runs through August 8th. A comprehensive (and hopefully balanced) review of the show runs in next weekís Shepherd.†


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