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LA Theater Review


Can a 21st-century production of the "tribal love-rock musical" from 1967 still be relevant today? Even if it looks and sounds authentic to its era, as this staging does, does it have any bearing in a world where the ideals of the counterculture are now only a distant memory? If the same forces existed today that led Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni to create Hair, the show might still be germane. They don't, which makes this (or any) staging just a theatrical curio. The show is a landmark as the first rock musical, but it's still little more than a theater-history footnote.

Oanh Nguyen's staging still leaves plenty of room for admiration. The 17-person ensemble is well-chosen for its musical skills: solid singing under music director Bill Strongin and era-evocative dancing in outstanding numbers created by choreographer Kelly Todd. The rock music we now take for granted was in 1967 something shockingly new, especially to the Broadway stage, and many of the score's songs—"Ain't Got No," "I'm Black," "Hair"—represent the culture clashes so prevalent in the '60s, while memorable numbers "Aquarius," "I Believe in Love," "Good Morning Starshine," and "Let the Sunshine In" bespeak the counterculture's (perhaps impossibly) high ideals.

James May brings a winning smile and kooky charm to the role of Claude, the hippie so deeply conflicted about being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Armando Gutierrez's Berger, Claude's best buddy, is a free-spirited longhair who resents any encroachment upon his freedom. As Sheila, Michaelia Leigh injects her songs with strong, melodic vocal work, while Amber J. Snead and David LaMarr, with their powerful vocals, lead the roster of secondary characters who work strongly as a unit, having mastered lyrics that are often dazzling displays of wordplay. The four-man combo of Strongin (bass), Kyle Cahill (guitar), Alan Corcoran (keyboard), and Bryan Barton (drums) creates an amazing variety of sounds. The music combines with KC Wilkerson's often psychedelic lighting to create a look back at an era we might dare say evokes nostalgia more than it represents a disaffected generation's call to arms.

Presented by and at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. July 11-Aug. 16. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (714) 777-3033.

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