Energetic in its staging and accomplished in execution, the Candlefish Theatre Co.’s 30th anniversary production of “Hair” is an absolute joy to watch. Playful cast is in impeccable voice, Mary Schafer’s direction cuts through the ’60s rhetoric and delivers ’90s theatricality, and Bo Crowell’s choreography makes inventive use of the small space — three ingredients that certainly played key roles in getting “Hair” honcho Michael Butler to sign on as a producer and extend the run by two months.
The production takes the musical at face value — hippie agenda is put asunder — and milks its primary asset: the score. With a talented cast led by Walter Winston O’Neil’s kinetic Berger and the vocally stunning Marvette Williams as Dionne, it more than holds up as a musical revue: Not only are the famous songs done well but lesser material, such as “Frank Mills” and “Abie Baby/Four Score,” is done in an affecting manner.
The music is on the verge of timelessness, the pinpoint accurate costumes cloaking it in innocence more than locking it in a time capsule. To some degree it’s the staging that complements the music so well — there’s no requirement for the audience to have “been there” to grasp the drugs and the dilemma, a condition that doesn’t necessarily exist in that other rock musical, “Rent.”
The book is still the musical’s weak link. Claude (Douglas Crawford) is indecisive about burning his draft card and whether to leave his Greenwich Village pals for Vietnam. The members of Tribe have sex, get high together, attend a peace rally and play parts in Claude’s hallucinations: the dawn of Aquarius and little else.
Williams starts the evening with considerable pop — she booms through “Aquarius” with the gospel fervor of great late ’60s soul shouters such as Merry Clayton, then using that model on her five other solo spots.
As Claude, Crawford plays the lead heavy on introspection. His confusion is palpable, his reticence works the room as well as the full-blown numbers featuring the entire Tribe.
Of particular note in the Tribe is Dawn Worrall as the doe-eyed and pregnant Jeannie. She possesses an undeniable charm and a carefreeness that imbues a tangible hippie ethic. There’s a little girl aching to get out in her solo turn on “Air”; by the end of the evening, she has become something of a quiet leader among some very noisy forces.
Set is basic, a few platforms resembling concrete blocks, and lighting has its technical limitations. Psychedelic effects are more understood than manifested through lighting. Sound is clear and well-mixed throughout the house. Onstage guitarist Christian Nesmith — the rest of the band is hidden in the back — is a solid accompanist and aces at evoking a maelstrom of sounds throughout the second act’s drug-induced craziness.
Nudity, a key selling point when this debuted at the Aquarius here and the Public in New York, isn’t the bold ploy it was 30 or even 10 years ago. Playwrights have extended its value beyond a device to shock and here it’s the one moment that reeks of isolation. It’s a musical about togetherness and once the actors have their clothes off at the end of act one, they stop interacting and rely on jolting the audience with a direct eyeful. Its acceptance so significantly altered, the nudity belongs at the end of the play when there is joy and celebration and not the indecision that closes the first act.