In truth, by the time I saw it, not much had changed in the world. The actors who hung out near Hollywood and Vine between performances largely resembled the people wandering the streets; each knew what the other was about. They looked and acted and talked just the way we did.
But the same cannot be said of the upcoming performance of “Hair” by The Center Players of Bayonne at the Jewish Community Center from May 16 through 19. Most of the cast are in their mid-20s and a real challenge for director Alex Perez, who had to get these actors into the mindset of a time long before any of them were born.
Unlike many recent productions of “Hair,” JCC’s will return to a more authentic and raw production, Perez said, restoring some of the vigor later readapatations lacked.
“This will not be a musical for young children,” he said.
He pointed out that it will have innovative elements that are in keeping with contemporary theater such as an emphasis on dance.
Although revised many times during the years leading up to and after its long run on Broadway, the most recent musical revival tamed it down from what was originally written. With lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, the play sparked a number of top-40 hits, such as “Let the Sunshine In,” “Aquarius,” “Easy to be Hard,” “Donna.” and the title song “Hair.” The musical influenced a generation of rock operas and other musical plays during the early 1970s.
This production, directed and choreographed by Perez, seeks to capture the authenticity of the original, which often sought to get the audience engaged.
“We’re doing this musical in the round,” he said, referring to staging that does away with the traditional stage and has the audience completely surrounding the performance area, giving it a more intimate setting.
“Hair,” which originally debuted in 1967 at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, became what many consider the first rock opera or rock musical, with a number of its songs feeding into the counterculture in the United States and around the world. The musical’s profanity, use of illicit drugs, open sexuality, irreverence for the American flag, and above all its nude scene, made it an instant hit—and very controversial. Eventually, the issues of language and flag were taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the musical was credited with the elimination of censorship in other countries.
“Hair” tells the story of a group of politically active hippies who call themselves the “Tribe,” living as bohemians in New York City and fighting against the draft that is sending young men to the war in Vietnam. The musical raised serious questions about American culture and its expectations, especially those that evolved from the 1950s and its consumer-oriented thinking that seemed to degrade personal experience.
Perez, too, was born after the heyday of “Hair,” but he had been brought up with the counterculture experience. Still, he found that he needed to convey a better understanding to cast members who did not have the benefit of the education he’d had.
“They had to do a lot of research,” he said of the 25-member cast. “I wanted them to understand what was going on when they went out on stage. That was a different world back then from the one today.”
But he said the musical is still relevant to today’s audiences, in its sense of community.
“There are some timeless messages in this about war, culture, equality, and being accepted for who we are,” he said.
“There are some timeless messages in this about war, culture, equality, and being accepted for who we are.”—Alex Perez
Perez said JCC has been exploring more serious and controversial musicals over the last few years. It usually has one each year that is thought provoking.
“This performance is up front and in your face, and it is a better way to experience theater,” Perez said.
He said the cast bonded over the performance and that there was an understanding of it on a deeper level.
“Hair” debuted on Broadway in the spring of 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances, enjoying a successful revival in 2009 and multiple productions worldwide in the last 45 years.
“I am fond of this show for its values of respect, equality, and treating others with kindness,” said Allison St. Rock (Jeannie).
The cast, which hails from different parts of New York and New Jersey, includes Marc Mills (Berger); Alan Van Antwerp (Claude); Kate Pentek (Sheila); Allison St. Rock (Jeannie); Ben Simon (Woof); Sean Marcus Moton (Hud); Autumn Hart (Dionne); and Rikki Miscia (Crissy). The tribe consists of Dana Daddio, Nick Riccardi, Stevie Hedgespeth, Nick Cartusciello, Heather Bithell, Tara Kulbatski, Dene Hill, Eric Parkin, Afton Johnson, Nicholas Bicica, Kaitlyn Flannery, Danny D’Orazio, Chuck LaCorte, Dylan Finnerty, Jose Mediavilla, and Edglisia McDonald.
“Many of the actors are from around Hudson and Bergen counties; some are from Bayonne and some are from New York,” Perez said.
Tickets are $15 at BrownPaperTickets.com
There are four performances: Thursday, May 16 at 8 p.m.; Saturday May 18 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday May 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Jewish Community Center of Bayonne, 1050 Kennedy Blvd.
The show, which contains brief nudity, adult language and situations, is not suitable for younger audiences. For more information, visit facebook.com/hairjccbayonne or email HairJccbayonne@gmail.com.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.