New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Bridgeport

What sheer joy, as a company of young, gifted performers explodes with “Hair,” the landmark musical of the late ‘60s! And how fortunate to have Julie Arenal, the show’s original choreographer, direct and choreograph this Downtown Cabaret production!

Arenal claims that this “Hair” is not a carbon copy of the original 1968 version. She has encouraged her performers to express themselves, thus incorporating new work into the basic piece. But whether it is the Arenal genius, the performers themselves, or both, the result is sheer magic. From the moment players begin to drift slowly through the audience and up to the stage, we are mesmerized by “Hair.” Gradually the company assembles and bursts in “The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” and we are back in another era, on another astral plain.

“Hair” is not only entertainment, but history as well, marking the opening of our social revolution. Drugs and promiscuity were part of the scene, as were anti-war, anti-establishment protests and concerns for the planet. One can argue endlessly, pro and con, about the merits and perils of that time. But it did change the world as we knew it, forever banishing the uptight ‘50s.

But above all, “Hair” is a work of art. Arenal’s choreography is both appropriate and unique, and no duplication of Bob Fosse or Jerome Robbins’ Broadway shows. As this cast moves through their paces, they create a superb ensemble, thanks to Arenal’s impeccable direction. The work is best with every one on stage, though individual songs are often haunting as well.

It is the world of the flower children, with their casual couplings, their drug-induced dreams, their friendships and rivalries. But there is also a plot, thin though it is, which focuses on Claude and his Viet Nam dilemma. Will he burn his draft card, as do others? Or will he head into the battle scene?

As Claude, Pat McRoberts gives a strong likeable performance, but equally affecting are Emily Drennan and Liza Marie Johnston, Kenny Moten and J. Cameron Barnett in featured roles. They come through with fine voices, thanks to the miking, but unfortunately words are often lost in the fast numbers. (One would benefit from having the words of the songs in hand.) But star of the show is surely the ensemble itself—with all 18 members. And the orchestra, under Patrick Q. Kelly’s direction, is perfectly in sinc, enhancing the mood. The show’s only jarring note is the scene in which Margaret Mead (played in drag by Daniel C. Levine) appears, ostensibly to study the natives. For that brief period, the haunting mood is shattered.

But mostly this “Hair” is on target, with the design team also making strong contributions, thanks to J Branson’s street set, Joe Boerst’s sound design, Leslie Neilson Bowman’s delightful costumes, and Hugh Hallinan’s superb lighting.

Thankfully, it’s not hair today, gone tomorrow for “Hair.” This not-to-be-missed show will be around until late May.

-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 4, 2005

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