The Globe Returns To Live Performances With 'Hair'
The 1967 musical proves surprisingly relevant today
The Old Globe Theatre returns to in-person performances with a newly mounted production of the 1967 rock musical "Hair." The play will be performed at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre and opens Tuesday night with preview performances.
By the end of 1968, audiences seeing “Hair” had also witnessed race riots spreading across the US, widespread student protests, debate over the Voting Rights Act, the founding of the Black Panther Party, and the Stonewall Riots. The rock musical “Hair” captures a sense of political and social upheaval that feels surprisingly familiar to audiences in 2021.
"This is going to sound so crazy, but I feel like this play is needed right now," explained actor Andrew Polec. "Just like it was needed back in the late 60s, this play tapped into the zeitgeist, the pulse of the late 60s and completely captured the essence of how life needed to change, how the old needed to be subverted almost and changed into the new. We needed to question the status quo."
Polec plays counter-culture hippie icon Berger in the Old Globe’s production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical."
"Right now, what we want to do and what we want to share with everyone in this world and everyone who sees this play is that there is still a chance to always change and better ourselves, and there is always a chance to connect with each other even more than we already are connecting to connect with love, to connect with hope, to actually embrace all of our differences, embrace the diversity and beauty of this world."
But “Hair” is very specifically set in 1968.
"You have a bunch of 18 year-olds who are being drafted and the government is deciding what their life is going to be. And in most cases, their life was ending in Vietnam," actor Tyler Hardwick said. "Why does this government, this entity, get to decide what to do with my life and my body? Right? Questioning why does this thing, the system, get to take my body and throw it into circumstances without my consent?"
Yet the play’s message is timeless.
"Every generation is going to have a fight and every generation is going to want to make the world a better place. And that's ultimately what hair is about. It's a group of young people who come together fighting for change and fighting for better," director Vásquez said. "So even though it was on tap for 2020, I find it still relevant, and even more relevant now coming out after this year-and-a-half of a shutdown where we built up energy and and passions that were we weren't allowed to express. And so now to be back and to be able to stand on that stage and share our voices and share our authentic selves, which are big themes of of our production of 'Hair,' I think is fantastic and important for the world today."
It is also important to keep the play firmly in its period setting.
"I think it's important to show humanity that we have continual opportunity to improve and we don't always take that opportunity. So it's a little bit of a smack in the face and reminder that we have work that we still need to be doing," Vásquez added.
The play has almost 40 musical numbers and each is like its own protest moment.
"Everybody steps forward at some point with something that is vitally important to them that they need to share," Vásquez said. "You're definitely going to have messages of Black Lives Matter, there's a big push of BIPOC stories in our production and living your life authentically, which I think are wildly important issues in 2021 that fit into the story of 'Hair.'”
“Hair” stirred a lot of controversy when it opened because there was onstage nudity, a character urinated on the flag, and lyrics addressed racist stereotypes as well as sexual freedom.
"There are a couple challenging moments in the story, some that I that even sort of make the fur on the back of our [neck] stand up a little bit," Vásquez explained. "We've had some conversations about moments in the show that make us uncomfortable, that we, after discussion, find important to present as part of the story. I will say the urination on the flag is no longer in the script. We've found we found other ways to make comments on what it is to be an American today.
But the nudity remains.
"And so the moment of nudity is just that, it is about freedom of expression and authenticity.
Vásquez had selected "Hair" for production before the pandemic but had to put the show on hold while live theater was closed. One of the benefits of the delay was that the production was moved from the indoor main stage to the outdoor Festival stage.
"You put those trees in the background and it just changes the world for you," Vásquez said. " "So that guided us. We really set our world in a park, a corner of a park that our collective takes over. We have found pieces that the collective brings in throughout the story, really just to sort of establish this world that is theirs, separate from the outside world. So it's exciting. I think we're creating a realistic yet bright, fun theatrical world on stage. And we've graffitied messages of hope and love all over the stage."
Messages that remind us of an opportunity for change that we had more than a half century ago and that we now face again. Vasquez hopes the energy of youth drives the play will inspire audiences to strive yet again for something better that’s in front of us.
"Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, debuted off Broadway in 1967 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. It was made into a film in 1979 by Milos Foreman.
The Old Globe's production of "Hair" runs through Oct. 3 (this reflects new extended dates just added) at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.