Actor Steel Burkhardt leads the cast in a joyous revival of the sixties musical, still relevant today.
By Laura Tate/Editor
It’s been used before, but I can’t think of another word that would adequately describe Steel Burkhardt, who plays Gerber, the leader of the Tribe in the musical “Hair,” now playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
He is “magnetic.”
Although Burkhardt certainly is the leader in charisma out of the group of actors, the entire musical, with its multi-talented performers, is mesmerizing.
Never having seen the show, or the movie version, I looked forward to it. I didn’t even know the storyline, except that it’s an anti-war, peace-and-love-for-all revue. A friend told me that it was very sad and to bring tissues.
Sad it is. The audience was rendered to complete silence and stillness at the image of Claude, well played by Paris Remillard, prone on stage dressed in military uniform, backed by a the United States flag, with a halo of light beamed onto his lifeless body. All I could think of was my friend’s son, who is 23 and off to Afghanistan in a few months-and of all the other young men and women at war in the name of our country.
But, prior to this sobering moment, and the following jubilation when the cast ushers the entire audience on stage to dance and sing “Let the Sun Shine In,” the cast leads spectators on a wonderful journey of dance and song, energy and joy for life, for that’s what the Tribe celebrates-life, and all it’s encompassing good-and-bad wonderfulness.
Although the message of “turn on, tune in and drop out” may not be quite the way to go for a functioning society, many of us forget the simple joys of life, and to celebrate them.
The anti-war messages are as current now as when the original show was first staged off-Broadway in 1967 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, and the production’s use of profanity and nudity-while perhaps not as shocking to some today as it may have been when first staged-it moves one to examine current racial and other prejudices.
The audience at the pre-opening night performance Wednesday was a mixed bunch, seemingly older (’40s to ’70s) but with some quite young children attending (including my 13-year-old son, who has seen the movie and loved the show). The rousing numbers in the beginning, such as “Aquarius,” superbly sung by Phyre Hawkins as Dionne, and “Donna,” sung by Burkhardt (the Tribe ensemble joins in most songs), and Burkhardt’s engaging and comical interactions with audience members, got the crowd going. However, attendees seemed a little “uptight,” as my son put it, throughout the middle of the show, as they sat still, observing, but not engaging in any external way in the goings on.
Nevertheless they were moved to giving a standing ovation, and, when encouraged to run and jump onstage with the cast and finally let loose, the sun was shining, if only for brief and joyous moment.
“Hair,” directed by Diane Paulus, choreographed by Karole Armitage, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Radd, and music by Galt MacDermot, plays at the Pantages Theater through Jan. 23.