It’s tough to put on a musical in the Pit.
In her program, director Charlotte Steuter-Martin urges the audience of Hair to understand that the “music and the dialogue cannot be looked at individually but [rather] the play must be taken as an emotional whole.” But squeezing a university theatre company into a small space with awful acoustics is no easy task. So taken as a whole, it’s understandable that the sum of the show was perhaps not greater than its parts. That being said, its parts make for a damn-good, musically tight, well-rehearsed piece of theatre.
The elaborate, exaggerated style that dominates Hair lends some of the episodes of the show more strength than others. Generally the chorus is enthusiastic and supportive, with especially inspiring performances from Annie Flaherty, Dave Lewis, Taylor Saracuse and Ken Wallingford. Lewis’ and Wallingford’s voices and choreography are exceptional. In an episodic script such as Hair – even though Steuter-Martin warns against it – it’s hard not to have a favorite song. Mine was Jasmine Hare’s (Crissa) rendition of the notoriously difficult “Frank Mills”. She sang with an airy ease and confident strength that was refreshing and pure. Another beautiful moment well-worth special mention is Gabrielle Willms’s (Grace) and Caitlyn Parsons’s (Autumn) duet of “What a Piece of Work is Man”. It cuts through the psychedelic, disorienting trip scene and injects real melody and harmony into discord and confusion.
That said, Genny Whelan (Sheila) and Katelynn Gough (Dionne) stole the show and ran with it. Inevitably in a production with such a large cast there is a disparity of talent. Unfortunately, this aspect of Hair held it back. It was Whelan’s and Gough’s brilliance in the final song that brought the quality of the rest of the performances into sharp focus. Whelan’s “Easy to be Hard,” finally shows the audience some real, raw emotion. But the love triangle between her, Allan Lavell (Berger), and Sean O’Brien (Claude), though briefly and startlingly exposed here, never resurfaces in Hair. The script routinely leaves the audience grasping at straws for the conclusion of plot strands that are ambiguously strewn about. This makes it difficult to view the show as an “emotional whole.”
What’s more, the technical aspects of the show are frustrating to say the least. For such a large musical, with such emphasis on musical numbers, the music is quiet most of the time. The triumvirate of a muted – if excellent – band, quiet singers, and ineffectual or irrelevant microphones kept reducing the volume of the show. Hair’s lack of attention to the mics became clear as they were often battered by high-flying arms and left swinging distractingly in front of the audience. The capabilities of the sound system are then over-demonstrated in a deafening war scene which only deepened my frustration with the relative inaudibility of the rest of the show, especially the dialogue.
Although Hair repeated its tropes episode after episode until, as one character says, “sex and love is not even a pleasure anymore;” if you ignore the fact that it’s hard to really see the show as a whole, you might just feel emotionally whole yourself – I’m sure Steuter-Martin would settle for that.
Review: The KTS's Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Squeezing a university theatre company into a small space with awful acoustics is no easy task. So taken as a whole, it’s understandable that the sum of the show was perhaps not greater than its parts. That being said, its parts make for a damn-good, musically tight, well-rehearsed piece of theatre.
It’s tough to put on a musical in the Pit.
One reply on “Review: The KTS's Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”
I can claim no great experience in theatre, neither technical nor performance-wise, but I would like to contribute a word anyway.
I tried not getting too excited for this production of Hair, which I had been anticipating for some months. I didn’t want to build it up in my mind too much and find myself let down after the Wednesday night opening. But there was no need to worry.
I was quite f%$king blown away.
I think that anyone who allowed themselves to focus on the intense performance that is Hair, the incredible songs, the stunning colours of emotion painted across the stage and mandalas, the wildly real interactions between characters and the subtleties of the story, one would not be too worried about a swinging mike or two.
A show ought to be precisely that, a Show! It ought to be a grand performance, and a little real. If you want an acoustically perfected, obscenely well-funded show with a plot easy-as-toast to follow, well, I suppose you oughta look elsewheres.
I certainly have dawned my first headband of the year thanks to this show, I have rediscovered the happiness of hippiedom and I certainly have a renewed will to grow my hair out.
So I say, Swing Mikes Swing! Swing all over the fucking place!
Its MUSICAL theatre!
Its the 60s!
See you at the performance tonight!
-Benjamin Reid Howells