4.3 Hot A regular viewer may see HAIR as a peculiar junkie musical in need of narrative makeover. But if you look closely, and if you’ll open your minds, you’ll see how beautiful its core is. This piece dares to question everything else that we find normal. It is in-your-face, and demands that we too raise and develop our own questions. It calls to us to acknowledge love, acceptance and freedom as our ultimate goals.
Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt Macdermot’s HAIR came to New York during the time of the experimental theatre movement, so don’t be surprised with its structure, language, and feel. It was a time when theater producers were finding new methods on how to communicate with an audience. HAIR – like its contemporaries – have delved heavily on improvisations, audience participation and even unorthodoxed rites to break barriers in contemporary theater. And boy, how it thrived!
Amidst its chaos and psychedelic randomness, there’s something really beautiful in HAIR. Initially produced in an era when the US government was sending troops halfway around the world to kill and die for strangers, this revolutionary musical satirized, in its own way, the ridiculousness of it all. In their own little way, Ragni, Rado and Macdermot brought to the Broadway stage an unlikely musical that forced its audience to ask bigger questions about life, freedom, and choices.
Repertory Philippines chooses this tribal love-rock musical as its season ender for its 50th season, and it is just brilliant. Having had seen a number of recent Rep shows in the past years, one can say that this one crosses the common boarder of conventionality and bravely put on the eccentric hat that matches this generation’s atypical stance.
It is the late 60s and just recently, the earth’s moon has aligned with four other planets in the constellation Aquarius. These heavenly bodies haven’t been in the same position in the last 2,500 years. According to some, this is beginning of a new age of creativity, idealism and freedom.
The AquariYas Tribe, a group of politically aware long-haired hippies gather in New York city to fight and sing against Nixon’s war in Vietnam. Claude, the tribe’s leader, his friend Berger, and their roommate Sheila all find reason for their existence and try to keep balance amidst the growing resistance to social standards and conformity. Over the long haul, Claude will have to face his choices to either submit to his parents’ wishes that he fight in Vietnam, or continue his work as an underground activist.
With Director Chris Millado at the helm, Repertory Philippines’ production of HAIR didn’t miss the point. Millado carefully directs his ensemble with unmistakable vision, sprinkling the endless chaos on stage with Macdermot’s underlying imageries and blatant satires.
John Batalla’s lighting design synchronizes the magic in the hippie world of the AquariYas Tribe. Batalla illuminates the Greenbelt Onstage platform with an array of limitless colors, expanding the characters’ euphoric universe with the magic of brilliance and sunshine. Like in its original 1967 production, Joey Mendoza’s set rejected the conventional theater design with its center, relatively bare, but not neglected of color and breathable space.
Ejay Yatco’s orchestration soon becomes one of the show’s additional character. Yatco’s arrangement and sound add to the brilliance of the musical’s peculiar lyricism.
PJ Rebullida, who amazed audiences with choreography for works like NEWSIES, constructs a pretty skeletal series of movements that doesn’t feel choreographed. With lyrics that do not rhyme and music that jumps beyond conventionalities, he challenged himself with creating movements for the sound and feel of an authentic rock & roll musical. Like its unconfined narrative, Rebullida allows the ensemble to create their own movements, expanding the experience through an explosion of a social epoch.
George Shulze’s Berger surprises the audiences with his electric portrayal as Claude’s eccentric buddy. Caisa Borromeo, as Sheila, is a sight to see – swinging from Berger to Claude, and back again, depicting a peculiar exhibition of both love and companionship.
And we have Markki Stroem as Claude, who commands his crowd of psychedelic liberalists with a presence only a strong-willed hippie could muster. Stroem is at his strongest his more sentimental scenes, bringing justice to Madermot’s characterizations of a young man torn between his early choices. However, Stroem lags in the more upbeat sequences, somewhat missing the point of hippie groove and authenticity of this era. Understand that the epoch’s concept of ethereal consciousness springs from the idea of feeling good, rather than just looking good.
Yet, the ensemble compensates this want, granting a quick access to an era of minorities who preferred to be called “freaks” rather than “hippies.” Millado presents and array of composites for “Krishna followers” and “Jesus freaks” communing to present a weird, yet colorful spectrum of individualists and naturalists. Worthy to mention are Naths Everett as Dion, Cara Barredo as Crissy, Alfritz Blanch as Hud, and Maronne Cruz as Jeanie, who manage to project this unique groove of the 60s; making them stand out in this sub-culture crowd.
In the heart of HAIR’s expletives, orgies, and drug-crazed fanfares is a fairly relevant satire on societal standards, more so, on organized religion. We see Claude as the Christ who enters Act 1 saying, “I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and will soon be forgotten!” This somewhat makes Sheila and Berger as Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist, respectively. We see him blessing (anointing?) the members of the tribe, dressed in white and with hair that can likewise be comparable to that of the stereotypical Christ.
Here, we see how the piece examines its great disconnect from why we have religions in the first place. Doctrines had soon become the major focus of our religions, consequently diminishing the true meaning of God and Jesus’ scriptures.
Also, Claude’s decision to oblige to his parents’ wish for him to fight in Vietnam brings to the table yet another opportunity for discourse. As Claude sees this choice as a milestone to move from the freedom-loving life to the real world, he soon becomes a victim of his own fate. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he, too, sees the need for change but do not have enough courage to execute. Though smart, witty and critical, like most of us – he hesitates with important decisions.
A regular viewer may see HAIR as a peculiar junkie musical in need of a narrative makeover. But if you look closely, and if you’ll open your minds, you’ll see how beautiful its core is. This piece dares to question everything else that we find normal. It is in-your-face, and demands that we too raise and develop our own questions. It calls to us to acknowledge love, acceptance and freedom as our ultimate goals; to “let the sunshine in.”
If this is not what Art is supposed to do, I don’t know what is.
HAIR (The Tribal Love-Rock Musical) runs at Onstage Greenbelt 1 until December 17, 2017.
For tickets, please call (02) 843-3570, (02) 584-8458 or visit Ticketworld.com.ph
Photos by Ms. Trixie Dauz