Lower Ossington’s Hair is an “Outstanding Tribute”
Hair may be the best artifact we have of the late 1960s: other shows sing love letters to the period, but few of them capture the feeling of being inside the hippy movement at this unique moment in our history, when a generation’s blistering anger and outrage suddenly gave way to an outpouring of optimism, love and understanding. The Lower Ossington Theatre’s production (which plays off-site at the Randolph Theatre) takes that task seriously: they aren’t just delivering a good time, they represent and embody one of the most important and radical social movements our culture has ever produced — something never seen before or since.
The Tribe do their best work in the show’s ensemble numbers — and be grateful, because there’s a lot of them. Within the ensemble, Seanna Kennedy’s come-from-nowhere soprano pipes push Hare Krishna straight into orbit; Andria Crabbe’s vocals and stage presence have a fierce edge that captures attention; and Luke Witt’s unnamed hippy has a sneaky way of being the most interesting person to watch in group choreography.
And that choreography was, on the night I saw it, a little hit-and-miss. Sometimes the movement, built around striking images and effects, helped to underline and add layers of significance to the text. At other moments — especially during snappier numbers — I found it almost synched up a little too well, with an effect I’d have expected from Hairspray rather than a freewheeling rock musical about hippies.
Within the principal cast, I knew I was in good hands as soon as Leilani Ross started singing the signature opening song; Tanya Filipopoulos takes a forgettable character and brings her right to the centre of the production, memorable and significant; Sarah Wilkinson make fine work of Sheila, humanizing and filling out a character who usually winds up as a bundle of contradictions and plot devices (and singing very well to boot!); and keep an eye out for Mark Willett’s Margaret Mead, who you’ll want to take for dinner and drinkie-poos after the show. (Ross also gets an extremely memorable turn as a dead president; keep an eye out!)
As I’ve discussed, the true measure of success for a production of Hair is whether they can conjure up that specific time, and place, and feeling, and this production excels at hitting these notes: fifty years later, it can be difficult to relate to the ideas and people who first developed these communities and promoted these ideas, but LOT’s Hair plugs us right back in, easing us past apparent contradictions and making this environment seem real.
The catch is that several moments in the show struck me as cringeworthy to modern sensibilities: for example, a song where a character compares cunnilingus to pederasty, or a sequence in which actors pull on feathered headbands, pick up bows and arrows, and begin to hoot and holler in stereotypical “Red Indian” style. (The latter is done as parody, but cuts awful close to the bone.) These moments broke my suspension of disbelief and pushed me away from relating to the show.
But is it a good time? Yes, absolutely. Sit in the front row and be prepared to be blown away by some outstanding ensemble work, some standout singing acting from the principal cast, and by this living, breathing tribute to what many people believe was one of our culture’s finest hours.
As a warning, this piece’s preshow is heavy on audience participation. You can, of course, sit in the balcony in order to avoid the hippies — but I’d rather not contemplate what goes on in the back row of the balcony at a production of Hair!
- Hair plays through Sunday, September 14th at the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst Street)
- Ticket prices vary from $39.99 to $69.99. See website for details.
- Tickets may be purchased online or in-person from the Randolph Theatre box office immediately before performances.
- The Lower Ossingon Theatre recommends that patrons think carefully before bringing guests below the age of 15.
- Be advised that this production involves heavy use of smoke and fog effects; smoking of herbal cigarettes; sudden flashing lights; frank treatment of sexuality and sexual themes; and non-sexualized full-frontal nudity.
Photograph of the company by Tarah Kennedy.