Love and war get hairy at Toronto’s Papermill Theatre
If you’re anything like me, you assumed that Hair: The American Tribal-Love Rock Musical was going to be about heavy metal rock bands in the 1980s. I couldn’t have been more off. The title Hair represents the subculture of young men and women who grew their hair long, rejecting mainstream society and everything their parents’ generation stood for. The musical debuted as an Off-Broadway production in 1967 and has such a fun time highlighting the counterculture and free love movements that the 1960s have long become associated with.
The audience finds out that the musical takes place in 1968, my all-time favorite year of American history (nerd alert). The Vietnam War was raging, student protests were at an all-time high and the fight for civil rights was escalating. Not to mention the hippies, the yippies, be-ins, Martin Luther King Jr., sex, drugs and even Richard Nixon. Hair mostly focuses on the Vietnam War and the draft, along with a so-called tribe of young people from New York City who take drugs and love one another, happily, freely and without any restrictions.
The main plot of the musical largely centres on the Vietnam War and the struggles of Claude, one of the hippie protagonists who is drafted into military service and must come to terms with himself and the changing world around him. Although he is very adamant about not joining Uncle Sam’s army since it goes against everything he believes in, he just can’t seem to take the final plunge and burn his draft card.
All the actors in this production were fantastic. The chemistry between the two main characters/love interests, Berger (Colin Asuncion) and Claude (Sam Moffatt), was great and made the show really enjoyable. What I loved about Hair was that despite having such a huge chorus, each member got their chance to shine with a solo, dance or other moment that highlighted their specific talents. Also notable was Tanya Filipopoulos, the actress who played the pregnant Jeanie; her facial expressions were the best!
Probably the best part of the play was when a honeymooning couple from Utah encounters the group of hippies. The wife was played by a man and as she bossed her husband around, making him take pictures of her with the tribe, I couldn’t help but laugh at her silly accent. The way “she” pronounced the word “naïve” had me in stitches! Before I realized these two characters were from Utah, I had convinced myself that they were from Canada and that Hair would take an even more controversial draft-dodging turn. Not so, but that ended up being okay.
The only thing that bothered me about this production was the sound quality. Too often the microphones were way too loud and since only some of the main characters wore them, they drowned out the voices of the chorus during some of the group numbers. I cringed a couple times when the microphone was too loud during a solo or two; it really took away from a lovely voice and would have been an easy fix. That said, it was opening night, so I hope that ironing out the flaws in the first performance will make all the rest even better.
With catchy music, a great ensemble and an awesome theme, Hair is something you’ll enjoy, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to catch it on Broadway. Any musical that rhymes LBJ with LSD does right by me although you should probably leave your kids at home unless you want to explain to them what free love and LSD is!
– Hair plays at the Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road, Toronto) until January 26, 2013
– The show runs from January 23 to January 26 with shows at 8pm and an additional matinee at 2:30pm on January 26
– Tickets $22
– Tickets are available online or at the box office