This is the dawning of the return of the Age of Aquarius
WANT TO GO?
Presented by Broadway in Charleston
WHERE: Clay Center
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
TICKETS: $37 and $58.50
INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Few musicals have stirred up quite as much controversy as the '60s-era rock musical "Hair."
From the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, the Grammy and Tony award-winning show about 1960s counter-culture, societal upheaval and resistance to the Vietnam War was a headline grabber.
Objecting to everything from the show's nudity and coarse language to its sexual and political themes, groups in the South frequently picketed the touring production. In Cleveland, a firebomb was thrown at the theater where "Hair" was set to open, and the show essentially was chased out of Mexico.
Director Charles Roy, whose revival of "Hair" comes to the Clay Center Monday night, doesn't expect quite the same reaction with this 21st-century tour. He hopes audiences will still find it provocative, although it might not exactly be the same play they remember.
"The show had gotten caught up in its own iconic status," Roy said. "It became more about the beads, the Afros and the tie-dyes than why this show was created in the first place."
The director said "Hair" was an act of defiance. It was an act of protest.
"With this production, we're trying to reconnect the show to its provocative roots."
Still, Roy promised the show is everything fans of the rock musical remember -- and maybe a bit more.
Roy got involved with the revival of "Hair" through the Classical Theater Project, a theater company he co-founded with David Galpern in Toronto. Roy said he and Galpern were discussing mounting a production of the musical when the show's co-creator, James Rado, contacted him.
Roy explained that Rado holds the rights to "Hair," and, at least with professional companies, has the power to stop them from performing his show.
"He looked me up," Roy said. "In talking to me, he mentioned he'd been considering some revisions and asked if I was interested in adding some songs and making some basic changes."
Roy jumped at the chance. So, the director flew to New York to meet with Rado.
"Instead of just sitting down and looking over the script," Roy said, "he pulled out a yellow shopping bag."
The bag was full of notes scribbled on napkins and scraps of paper, newspaper and magazine clippings from the 1960s and many of the ideas that led to the creation of "Hair."
One meeting turned into numerous meetings and, by the time they were ready to start moving toward getting a cast, they'd altered some of the elements and added two songs. These weren't brand-new songs, just songs previously left out.
"One of the songs was cut before the show made it to Broadway," Roy said. "The other was in the original Broadway run, but fell out of favor and is very rarely performed."
Roy said this revival of "Hair" resembles the original, although it has an edgier, grittier quality to it.
The show also is stripped down some and, like some other recent musical revivals, the performers now serve as the orchestra.
"It's not quite a show about the cast playing the musical instruments," Roy said. "It's that the actors happen to play the instruments. It does feel like part of the whole, organic process.
"Besides, there's just something cool about Claude and Berger rocking out on their own electric guitars."
Roy acknowledged that while there are some changes to the story, one of the most controversial elements of the show still remains: the nudity.
"It's amazing that that scene has generated so much buzz for so long and it's the least provocative part of the play," he said.
For about 20 seconds at the end of Act I, members of the cast disrobe in dim light. Roy said the scene is meant to show the humanity of a group of young people who feel like they've been reduced to numbers.
"There are still plenty of things in the play that could offend people and make them think," Roy said. "I hope it does make them think but, at the end of the day, I hope the audience rocks out."
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.