Psychedelic trance music wafts from behind a deep blue curtain. A giant moon is woven onto it, giving the stage a mystical feel. The music suddenly changes, turning into a classic rock song reminiscent of Santana. The moon curtains rise to reveal a back-lit, Japanese-esque rising sun patterned with a rainbow of colors. In front of the sun sits a group of hippies. Some are recovering from trips, some just beginning them. Then, the diva Dionne standing center stage proudly touting a foot-wide Afro starts to sing “Aquarius,” launching the audience into the iconic flower-power rock musical that is “Hair.”
On Oct. 28 the national touring production of “Hair” opened in the Kennedy Center Opera House. As the first rock musical, “Hair” epitomizes the raw emotion, radical thought and groovy fashion that represent the counter-culture movement of the 1960s. From the laissez-faire sexual norms to the drug and love induced nudist gatherings to the draft-card burning “Be-Ins,” “Hair” captures all the essential elements of a time that inspires nostalgia in both young and old.
After the play’s opening song the audience is introduced to the Tribe’s central figure, Berger, played by Steel Burkhardt. Berger breaks the fourth wall without delay, greeting the audience and, after stripping his pants to reveal only a loincloth, crawling over the people in the first few rows. Burkhardt does an amazing job portraying the Jim Morrison figure of Beger. He immediately encompasses the audience as participants in the story, exemplified in the moment when Burkhardt went down to the first row to introduce his real-life mother, giving her quite the shock.
From here, “Hair” winds its way through a loose narrative that really just provides context to show the problems hippies faced. Forced military service, disapproving parents and drama filled love-quartets create conflict throughout the play.
This production really shines when communicating the raw emotion attached to the Tribe’s societal goals. “Hair” and “Aquarius” are marvelous expressions of the Tribe’s hippy identity while the soul-searching “Where Do I Go” is a powerful re-creation of the confusion this lifestyle produced. Following the death of one of the Tribe’s members, the play ends with “Let the Sun Shine In,” a moving look to a future filled with hope.
During the play, the band sits on platforms at the back of the stage. Being able to see the musicians gave “Hair” the unique feeling of a concert.
Similar to an opera, the music of “Hair” becomes the main drive to the story and succeeds in taking the audience on a cosmic journey through orgies, LSD trips and protest songs.
The plays ends with the cast coming back on stage for a reprise of “Let the Sun Shine In” and bringing the audience onstage to dance. After the song ends the cast remains onstage to talk and say goodbye to the crowd.
“Hair” offers an organic touch into a movement that went on to define a generation while giving the audience an emotionally moving and inclusive experience.
Hair is being performed at the Kennedy Center through Nov. 1st. Tickets range from $25 to $115.