America’s first tribal rock musical, “Hair,” opened on Broadway in 1968 and ran for nearly 1800 performances opened Friday, Sept. 19 at The Barn Players Playhouse, in Mission, Kansas to the delight of head-band wearing attendees and a mixture of young and mature audiences there to experience the wonders of “Hair.”
The classic rock musical “Hair” runs weekends through Sunday, Oct. 5 at the Barn Players, 6219 Martway in Mission with Friday and Saturday evening performances at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
The first rock musical to grace the Broadway boards challenged theatergoers with it’s strong language, Hippie characters, burning draft cards and bras, anti-war sentiment, popular rock music, and, oh yes, nudity. How could you forget the nudity? Even 45 years after its production, just mention “Hair” and people know it was a musical with nudity.
The Barn’s version does not skip or skimp on the nudity. It’s there front and center at the end of Act I with the entire cast (except one character) sans clothing and singing out, facing the audience.
The legendary musical is the story of the disgruntled youth in the late 60’s. It unfolds through the saga of a group of Hippies in New York City, struggling to balance their lives against the draft; against their parents; against a traditional, established society; against conflicting views of the war in Vietman; the Civil Rights Movement; the explosion of expanded marijuana usage; Timothy Leary’s idea;, LSD usage; a sexual revolution; traditional sexual values; and expected “normal” behaviors.
“Hair” features a long list of renowned musical numbers including: “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” “Easy to be Hard,” the title song, “Hair,” and others.
The Barn Players production of “HAIR” is directed by Phil Kinen with musical direction by Chris Holbrook. Kinen said he had directed “Hair” once before and wanted to complete another production of the classic show.
“This is a hard show to create. There are no stage directions,” Kinen said. As such, each production becomes the creative effort of the entire creative team to take the director’s vision and then create it in harmony with all other aspects of the show.
Kinen’s vision of “Hair” definitely pleases the crowd. The cast opens the show with interaction with the audience and a feeling of inclusion as they mingle and visit with patrons. After some good schmoozing, the audience is asked to silence cell phones, and join the celebration. The audience is encouraged to clap, sing along, wave their hands, yell, stand, dance and fully invest themselves in the production.
The result of the encouragement brings the mostly mature audience into the action with enthusiasm and gusto. And, when reflecting, “Hair” opened in the late 60s. Those of high school age then are now the mature audience members in their mid-60s now.
For this production, very few of the principal characters are names well known in the Kansas City Metro theater scene. Most are very young actors in their late teens and early 20’s. The youth of the 60s are now portrayed by the youth of 2014.
One of the two male leads, portraying Claude, Steven Ansel James said that he wished he knew more about the times of the musical and had studied more of the history of the times and the social aspects of the 1960s youth for his character. No further study was needed. James carried off his part with a strong performance coupled with his strong voice.
The other main character in the show, Berger, necessitates a young actor because Berger has just been expelled from high school prior to graduation. Jake Leet fill this part well and possesses the look of a 17-year-old high school student. While Leet looks that young, his stage presence and acting captured the spirit of the original production.
Many others in the cast gave strong performances with too many to mention and single out. With the show being about a group of hippies the cast includes about 20 people all with varying degrees of spoken lines. Almost all are on stage 75 percent of the time in the production.
Even though the show promises a good time for audience and cast, opening-night was less than spectacular due to sound problems with many of the microphones. The only to Mike’s that worked consistently well throughout the performance were those for Berger and Claude. So many beautiful voices were lost with microphone malfunctions. The strong voice of Kristen Altoro opens the show with the well-known, “Aquarius.” Her might consist consistently faded in and out and set the tone for the other microphones for the performance.
The sound quality is the only weakness of the production. That being said, the quality of the sound can and will be improved in subsequent performances. With improved sound, there is no weakness within the show.
“Hair” entertains the audience as well now as it did back in 1968 when it debuted on Broadway. The show is just plain fun. It’s a guarantee that 75% of those in attendance will be standing and dancing along with the cast when they get to their final song, “Let the Sun Shine In.”
The production comes with the highest of recommendations for a community theater production. No, it is not the polished performance one would expect of an equity theater or a Broadway tour; but, it brings joy, reminiscences, and the renewed promise that they youth of America will eventually become a bright, focused society in time. The Barn’s production of “Hair” brings a talented, young cast to the forefront and allows them to showcase their skills. Many are formidable actors that will become familiar names in the next few years. Watch for their continued development
The cast includes: Jake Leet, Steven James, Mark McNeal, Prisca Kendagor, Miles Wirth, Jill Smith, Keegan Cole, Zach Lofland, Jessica Alcorn, Jake Wozniak, Kristen Altoro, Julia Jones, Elgin Thrower Jr, Renee Blinn, Blane Brungardt, James Wearing, Skye Reid, Samantha Aaron, Kat Ruprecht, Sparkle Jones, and Mikyle Abernathy.
While the cast is performing at rapid speed, worthy of note are the costumes that take the audience back to the days of hippies, free love, and the sexual revolution. Katie Vaughters deserve special recognition for re-creating the look and feel of the era. Her costumes were bright colorful and authentic looking. Her job for costuming the show was monumental. It seems each character changes close a minimum of 10 times. She deserves a special award for her brilliant design.
Other members of the creative team include: Katie Blinn, stage manager; Guy Gardner, choreographer; Sam Slosburg, assistant director/scenic designer; Chuck Cline, lighting designer; Jason Bridges, sound designer; Alex Moarles, graphic designer; and Katie Vaughters, custom-designer. Musical direction was by Chris Holbrook.
The Barn’s production will sell out many performances. As word-of-mouth spreads crowds and ticket demand will increase. To avoid being locked out of the show, it is encouraged to pre-purchase tickets.
Tickets are $18. with discounts for seniors and students. For more information, go to the theatre website or purchase at the theatre box office prior to each production; groups over 10 call 913-432-9100.