Stillpointe Theatre Initiative gets into the swing of 'Hair'

(Handout photo )
August 13, 2013|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

“Hair,” the counterculture musical that stirred the pot, so to speak, in 1968, is very much a product of its time — Vietnam, dropping out, dropping acid, free love, Hare Krishna. Dated it may be, but it’s got something timeless going on, too, as the enjoyable revival by the Stillpointe Theatre Initiative reiterates.

Today’s young generation may have no fear of a draft and no great interest in where or why our military is fighting now, but the antiwar message in “Hair” can still hit home. Topics of sexuality, drugs and the environment obviously remain volatile as well.

And, as the “occupy” movement and the protests that followed the George Zimmerman trial indicated, the '60s spirit, the edginess of those take-it-to-the-streets days, has not entirely run out of fuel.

During pre-performance remarks the night I attended, Stillpointe’s artistic team put in a plug for “Wall Hunters,” the provocative artists targeting owners of dilapidated buildings in Baltimore. And “Hair” stage director Amanda J. Rife has written a program note that posits the show’s relevance to Baltimore’s current urban renewal needs.

Such nods to social activism help make this presentation of the old musical feel, well, right-on. It also feels uncommonly intimate, since the Stillpointe staging is being presented in the tiny Strand Theatre, with seating for just 30 people.

Set designers Stefan Ways and Ryan Haase have evocatively transformed and utilized the space; the coolest spot is a love nest in one corner, complete with hookah and even a bathtub. The main floor area suggests a grass (no, not that kind) patch, some forlorn city lot where the barefoot actors can romp at will.

And romp they do, flinging their beads and abundant hair (some wigs, some real). The look is not exactly psychedelic — Jayne Harris’s costume design is understated, and Adrienne ÖGieszl’s nuanced lighting tends to be muted, nocturnal — but it neatly exudes the flower-power, do-your-own-thing vibe.

Everyone jumps into the action wholeheartedly and with admirable fluidity, revealing hardly a trace of self-consciousness.

Speaking of revealing, the performers are far from buttoned-up, but they never shed all their clothes. Rife wisely decided to forego the famous nude scene. That never really was crucial to “Hair,” and, besides, exposed flesh onstage is so passe now. (At the Strand, with most of the audience only inches from the cast, it would have been a bit much anyway.)

A few other things are missing here. Trims have been made to the piece, including some of the most political material in Act 2. (I was more disappointed about the jettisoning of “Frank Mills,” a wry little gem of a song from Galt MacDermot’s score that I've loved since Barbra Streisand recorded it back in the day.)

But the Stillpointe production certainly preserves the essence of “Hair” -- needy, moody, rebellious youth; the struggle between idealism and hedonism; the equally tough struggle between conscience and convenience; slippery relationships.

The most crucial message in the book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, of course, is the one about “peace and love.” That’s easily mocked these days, but it really meant something in 1968, and, as this staging makes plain, it can mean something still.

Standouts in the cohesive cast include Bobby Libby as Claude, the would-be rebel who burns his library card instead of his draft card. Libby gives a funny, ultimately touching performance, and he sings the pivotal number “Where Do I Go?” with a good deal of expressive force.

Adam Cooley brings a passionate personality to the role of Berger, the de factor leader of the hippie brood. Missy Wimbish leaves an emphatic mark as the love-seeking Sheila, though her singing could use more polish.

Stacey Antoine, conducting from a keyboard, leads a tight, five-piece ensemble perched in a loft space.

Although there is amplification for some of the instruments, the cast is blissfully free of microphones, one more plus in this intimate and involving revival of a still-groovy musical.

"Hair" runs through Aug. 24.


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