Theater Review: STC’s ‘Hair in Concert’ is Really Groovy

Berger_edited-1Man, that Hair in Concert is really groovy! Peace, flowers, freedom and happiness are in ample supply at Street Theatre Company.

The classic rock musical that started Off-Broadway in 1967 – book (such as it is) and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot – suits STC’s “In Concert” series well since the music is indeed front and center in a show where the simple storyline centers on whether Claude (Ryan Greenawalt) will dodge the draft or go to Vietnam. It also suits the company because of its very talented ensemble on and off the stage.

What makes this Hair deeper and richer than a typical concert, though, is the way directors Cathy Street and Jaime Janiszewski allow us to explore the conflict between idealistic dreams and harsh realities inherent in that era (and others like our own). One of the ways they achieve that balance is by having the gifted Steven Steele at the light board creating lava-lamp-like psychedelic color mixes one moment and then washing the stage in striking blue, white or red the next.

sheliaThe five previous “In Concert” shows had strong ensembles and Hair is no exception. Whether onstage or out in the audience these performers have an apparently limitless supply of verve from “Aquarius” to “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).”

Greenawalt rocks as Claude from “Manchester England” on. He knows how to show his character’s tender side too, in a performance that’s complete and captivating. The same engaging qualities infuse the performances of Russ Evers as Berger, LaDarra Jackel as Shelia, Naeaidria Michele Callihan as Dionne, Madeline Thomas as Jeannie and Justin Boyd as Hud. Hair introduces Nashville audiences to Ben George, whose pipes and presence promise a long and fruitful stage life – and his work in “My Conviction” is delightful.

hairinconcert2The rest of the ever-energetic “Tribe” combines with their colleagues for great work throughout – a special mention should be made of Mallory Mundy’s mood-enhancing choreography for such numbers as “Aquarius” and “Black Boys/White Boys” because (a) it’s entertaining to watch and (b) the onstage ensemble gets to show that in addition to fine voices and good acting choices they know how to really move well. I really don’t have a favorite number because they’re all so good in the STC show, but their searing “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” lingers in the mind long after that song finishes.

Musical Director Rollie Mains (who plays keyboards) teams with fellow musicians Luke Easterling (bass), Eric Fritch (guitar and sitar), Jeff Rogers (guitar) and JJ Street (drums) to make some familiar sounds as fresh as if they’d never been played before. Ashton Pardon’s costumes have some hippy-dippy fun with the garb worn by those for whom the saying “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a powerful statement of alienation from the social mores of their parents’ generation.

Finale_edited-1So, I think you’ll really dig Hair in Concert. But don’t wait, because after Sunday it will sadly be too late to see this beautiful piece.

Hair in Concert directed by Cathy Street and Jaime Janiszewski continues through Sunday, Dec. 8 at Street Theatre Company (1933 Elm Hill Pk. near Briley Parkway). There are evening performances at 8 p.m. through Saturday as well as shows at 2 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors. Note: This show contains mature themes and language. For specific events, more information and to purchase tickets, call (615) 554-7414 or visit www.streettheatrecompany.org.

hairinconcert1*Photos by Kenn Stilger from Heavenly Perspective Photography courtesy Street Theatre Company.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).