I hope I don't shock or offend anyone when I say that I wasn't entirely sure why a Toronto-based production company would choose to produce the ever-too American period musical "Hair". We were invited to go and we of course went hoping to be blown away.
Upon reflection, I realized why Hair would be a candidate for First Act Productions. Their company is dedicated to producing musical theatre in Toronto. Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of new musical works being written by Canadian playwrights. The musical is an unmistakably American art form. Of course, there are Canadian musicals (this year, in Toronto we have Robin Hood and Deadmaus the Musical premiering) but the musical theatre canon is, in general, very American.
Therefore, it makes sense that a company with a young cast would brave the subject matter to present a smashing production.
For those of you who aren't familiar with this musical, it might help you to picture Rent minus thirty years, plus a few orgies and some nudity. To me, the script has always seemed out of focus. Of course that's probably because it's about the 1960s American "hippy" anti-war movement which was largely inspired by psychedelic drugs. So was this musical. James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the original writers, were two actors excited by the hippy movement who decided it would be "wonderful" to transmit the movement onto stage. In 1967, when it premiered, it was wonderful. Wonderfully relevant, wonderfully received. The wonderful audience was full of young and wonderful teenagers wondering why they hadn't discovered LSD earlier. I, on the other hand, am not so sure I relate to the show.
Last night, however, I think I saw the light.
Other than it's drug-laden context, it's known for many other things: Its nudity, its opening Off-Broadway in a park, it being the first "Rock Musical" and songs by Galt MacDermot including Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sunshine In.
It's a brave show and it takes brevity to pull it off. Last night, the cast committed to their purpose and all of a sudden the narrative of the show shone through. Partner the commitment of the cast with their insane musical talent and, really, this performance becomes a brilliant assertion of an era long before our time.
With Colin Asuncion, Bruce Scavuzzo and Sam Moffatt belting their way through the score and the entire company moving across the stage with energy that could kill, the show flies at the perfect pace. Emma Bartolomucci's choreography and Oscar Moreno's stage direction made use of every inch of the stage plus moments in the audience and suspensions from the brilliantly constructed set pieces.
I should say, that the production was very literal. I am not sure whether a lot of the humour, or maybe I should say the political messages, had to have mirrored the original production as much as I thought it did last night. Since the show harps on a lot of racial boundaries that date back to the sixties, I feel as though I should warn audience members...but that being said, the whole point of the show is to make a statement and that's certainly what this production does.
All in all I had a great time. I even got up and danced like an idiot during the reprise and the curtain call (Standing ovation). If you'd like to really enjoy yourself and really witness an outstanding performance and outstanding company, let down your hair this weekend and see this show.
Hair plays at The Papermill Theatre until January 26. For more information visit www.firstactproductions.ca