Rob Reviews "Hair"
One of the things I dig most about the Wyly Theatre in downtown Dallas is that it seems like every time I see a show there, they seem to find a way to make it look completely different. They are also very clever in their blocking of their productions, where the audience more often than not finds themselves a part of the production at one point or another. Given this little factoid, when I heard that they would be putting on “Hair” and that it was described as “fully immersive,” my attention was had.
Working universal themes that still reverberate today, “Hair” deals with a group of Hippies in 1967 as they try to navigate relationships, their futures, and even the state of the world they live in. Led by the charismatic Berger (Chris Peluso) and done completely in the round with a live band in the center of the room, this cast of characters sings, dances, and tells their stories with energy and power that kept me engaged all the way through this production.
And the production itself is a marvel to behold. Jo Winiarski’s scenic design is nothing short of spot-on, with the entire room being divided into four areas with their own distinct personalities and even their own furniture, which reminded me about the people we all knew in our twenties that had that porch made of chairs that there were not more than two of and NONE of them matched any of the others (seriously, there were people sitting on everything from couches to folding chairs to bean bags and even airline seats): The Kitchen, The Garden, The Playground, and The Lounge. The Wyly has also taken out all of their raised levels and balconies here, so everyone is right there in the thick of the action even before the production starts. Approximately thirty minutes before showtime, make sure to be there for The Happening, where the cast (in character) interacts with everyone in the room, whether it is playing hopscotch, having a conversation about world events of the time, and in our case, even doing a little bit of latch hooking. The Happening itself sets the perfect tone for the show when it kicks off, and it doesn’t slow down until the final bows.
And given some of the subject matter and demands put on its cast (if you don’t know, you may want to do some digging here), this group of actors and actresses absolutely nail this story. From Kia Nicole Boyer as Jeanie, the expectant mother wondering about the world she is bringing a child into to Tiana Kay Johnson as Sheila, the revolutionary that is finding the balance between her militant rebellious self and the softer feminine alpha female of the group to Jaime Cepero as Claude, who becomes the center of the story as he has to decide between being drafted to go to Vietnam or simply running away from it all and embracing the culture and friends that he has become so accustomed to. This cast is simply that good, and I was absolutely blown away at the talent level and commitment to selling each and every word and each and every note, creating an atmosphere that gave me the sense that I was more of a voyeur looking into the lives of these characters than an audience member at a stage production.
If there is one criticism with this production, it comes in the technical aspect of it. There is a LOT going on at any moment, and the sound was noticeably having some issues keeping up with it with a mix that I needed to hear more of the vocals than I got. With a live band in the middle of the room (especially with acoustic drums), the music itself can be overwhelming from an acoustic standpoint, so the volume level of the cast must be adjusted to balance that out, and it just fell short of that for me in most of the production. Luckily, everything else was so amazing that it did not take me out of what was going on, but with some minor work in this area, this could take this production of “Hair” to the next level of greatness.
Playing at the Wyly Theatre for an impressive run through October 22nd, this is a show that truly must be experienced to understand it’s vibe and pure grooviness. Again, do your homework so you know what you are in for (DON’T bring the kids unless you want to have at least one conversation on the way home that you may not be prepared for), but if you are still cool after that, get your tickets and “turn on, tune in, drop out”.