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September 27, 2000

'Hair' a powerful, albeit mixed bag

By Linda Wilton Smith

note: Italics in brackets are running commentary

by Randy Bowser

Suffering from nostalgia for the '60s? Get yourself to Pentacle's internationally noticed production of the quintessential expression of those long-lost days, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical "Hair," which plays through Oct. 14.

Which, being magnificently true to the segment of that era which it represents, is colorful, noisy, chaotic, smelly, frenetic, and ultimately boring. [boring? Wow--is that why they hoot, holler and leap to their feet at the end? Linda is saying the hippie counter-culture of the late '60's bores her, so that made her a tough customer to charm. It is too bad she didn't join the other patrons in loving The Tribe, despite prejudices against their behavior. ]

This is the ultimate high energy production. [but don't forget it's "boring.] An enormous cast (I counted 26, but it would have been easy to miss a few) [that's almost right--23 on stage Tribe members plus 4 back stage Tribe members who come and go on stage.]-plus four of the area's top rock instrumentalists plus the director himself on keyboards, but at least 25 in the backstage crew, [er--that must be a typo, there are definitely just 4 people back there]--work like beavers to bring this "breakthough rock musical" to us.

This production is serving both as a big-name spectacular for us here and as a try-out laboratory for new material worked into the originl by surviving co-author Jim Rado.

Wherefore we must, I suppose, be charitable towards its First Sin: It is too long. Much too long. Playing time opening night (exclusive of the one desperately needed intermission, which wasn't long enough) ran three and one-quarter hours. [Wrong, inaccurate, false. WITh the intermission, not exclusive of it, the evening, not counting late starts due to tardy patrons, was under 3 hours. Not a short evening, but Linda's watch played tricks on her. Act one was/is 1 hr. 31, Act Two is exactly an hour.] Which is typical of new works, especially those in which their writers/composers take an active part. (I once sat through five hours of a nw opera by Hans Werner Henze, which would have ben a great piece at half the length but at five hours was musical overkill.) [I was under obligation to try out the complete script Jim provided me. I could easily give everyone a show substantialy shorter, but that wasn't the deal I had with Jim. But I'm not hung up on show length--I'm with the majority of the audience who would stay for more if there was more to see. Without fail, the people who loved the show told me they had no perception of what the actual length was--it was to short for them.]

Ruthless editing would be the best thing that could happen here. [And of course that's what people usually do when they present "HAiR, regardless of contracts that forbid them to.]

Second Sin: over-amplification. [Trust me---Linda stands completely alone on this complaint. Most people are aware that it's a rock show---the decibals could still be much louder and those of us under the age of ancient would find the volume even better.] When I have to stuff scraps of Kleenex in my ears to keep from screaming, somebody needs to see to the soundboard. The middle upper register was especially painful; the bass was fine and the high notes almost pleasant. [But she looked so CUTE with paper in her ears!]

Third Sin: the smell. The smoke in the auditorium was asphyxiating on opening night. [NO SMOKE ANYWHERE IN THE ENTIRE PERFORMANCE! A little dry ice fog in Act Two. Linda's imagination worked over time on that one. Actors holding unlit joints to mouth and making a sucky sound do not smoke make.] Combined with patchouli and unwashed sweat it was just too much. Cruel to the nose, hard on the eyes. NOTE: If you have allergies, better stay away. [YIPPPEEE! Please DO stay away if you're fussy hypochondriacs who can't look at an un-lit cigarette without coughing. AND YIPPPEEEE she smelled the patchouli! Hmmmm and the sweat of real people dancing their hearts out. It's the real thing baby!]

Director Randy Bowser, Renaissance Man Extraordinaire, has given us a production which could hold its own against any professional presentation. Besides directing he designed the entire affair (sets, costumes, lights...) and plays in the band. [I love the way you can add bold type on here--hehehe]

He had active suport from choreographer Lisa DeCina, costumer Roxy Garrison, and technical director Tony Zandol, but the actual designs are pure Randy.

He has also added several extremely talented newcomers to the Pentacle rosters. In the future the program notation "first seen on the Pentacle stage in "Hair" in 2000" will be a wake-up call: watch this one, this one is special. [But here it would appear the Editor cut out the names of some newcomers she wanted to list--Allow me to at least list Reuben Sampson, Jacob Tawney, even though he was seen once before, in "West Side," and Carrie Wood. But the list really doesn't stop there.]

With Donald Williamson--who can now move as well as sing, and who gives a terrific performance as "Berger," and the equally strong Jeff Sanders, thin as a rail and singing with distinction as "Claude", dominating the stage, Justin Sutton's debut (as "Woof") is especially noteworthy. So is Geri Lyne Brost's--a lovely contralto--as "Sheila." Dawneka Patterson, who sprang onto the Pentacle stage as a full-fledged professional only moments ago, is definitely ready for the national spotlight. Gwen Francy is another serious talent to watch.

Now, about those projected montages above the stage. Just ignore them. They add nothing. I thought at first that they were there to support the action on the stage proper. Nyah. Just visual clutter. [Fodder for the anti-multi-media types who argue a good "no images in HAiR" rap---but my 4 months of gathering and directing the images for this show have garnered the highest praise. All a matter of taste. I'm hurt though---the images have succeeded in not upstaging the actors and Do manage to support the action psychedelically well. Taste--a matter of taste.]

And they weren't part of the original show, either. I asked a man who had been there. [----riiiight. And her point is---? I thought the idea was to create, not re-create.]

Furthermore, this is a revue, not a "book show." [I can tell what homework SHE did before she wrote this can't you? hehe] Which means, in plain language, don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy each passing moment for what it is. Some of them are really very enjoyable. [Um--"concept musical" "avant-garde theatre" "psychedelic" "montage" "impressionistic"---don't you think she could have been a bit more educational, since she seems so inclined to want to be?]

If you are uptight about dirty words and suggestive actions, this is the show to skip. This is definitely not the play for the Sunday School picnic. On the other hand, if your sense of humor is fairly relaxed, there are some sidesplitting moments here. The twelfth number in the (interminable) first act [I'll bet she had to pee]--is athletic parody of rare distinction. [I think she's referring to my slightly extended "Kama Sutra" section, which is sexy and funny--glad she noticed] The "hallucination" sequence in Act II is also memorable. But if you go home at intermission you still will have had your money's worth. [AAaah now That's nasty. Skip the tight second act with its famous and hopefully still gripping climax?--that's mean, like the show is a recording you can just turn off.]

Tickets are going very fast. If you don't have yours, call the Mid Valley Arts Council immediately. [HAHAHA---tooooo late. We've sold out completely, the new date is sold out, and we're adding another which already has a huge waiting list.]

Not as prissy and offended as I was hoping, based on the preview of this review I was given earlier. She obviously found much to admire, but stayed emotionally detached---unlike the vast majority of our patrons, and she DID feel a bit soiled by the close proximity with our living breathing Tribe. She tried to treat the show on the same terms she approaches any other musical or play---and in the process, pretty much missed the boat. I'll have a good laugh with Linda next time I see her. Charming woman.--RB

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