I have always hated the musical Hair. When I saw a production for the first time several years ago, my high expectations were crushed by the long-winded, richly-scored but sloppily written musical; an Across the Universe-esque collection of beautiful songs haphazardly strewn together by a messy, almost non-existant plot. I have since seen the play numerous times, ending each with the feeling of exhaustion and boredom by the show’s final number.
That is, until Mercury Theater’s production came along. Hair at Mercury Theater is an emotional journey punctuated by the vocal talents of its incredible ensemble cast. There’s no time to contemplate which cast member is your “favorite;” each number proves even more stunning than the last, leaving you reeling with the tremendous display of talent onstage.
Yet Michelle Lauto (Sheila) still deserves an individual shout out (and no, not because of her wig--one of the only low points of this spectacular production). Lauto’s raw, teary-eyed take on the most activist-oriented hippie in the group is responsible for carrying the emotional weight of the show’s second act. Her intense passion and conviction as Sheila serves as a rallying cry to remind us of the importance of speaking up and fighting back for one’s values, even if that means protesting one’s own government.
Lucy Godinez’s performance as Jeanie stood out as well as she perfected the balance between Jeanie’s youthful naivité and her character’s very real fears and desires. Craig Underwood had the audience hooting with laughter as Margaret Meade, and Evan Tyrone Martin spurred some spontaneous clapping with his booming bass vocals as Hud. When you hear Cherise Thomas’ opening notes as Dionne, you cannot imagine any other vocals being so powerful, but then Candace C. Edwards (Tribe) and Leryn Turlington (Crissy) give her a run for her money later in the show.
All of this can be summed up by saying that this may be the best ensemble cast of 2017, and I still feel like a gushing fan girl for the production in many ways. They managed to make a believer out of this Hair-hater. More importantly, this cast opened my eyes to the layers of racial, social, and political issues that the play presents. I may never love the book, but I have a new understanding and love for the lyrics, songs, and characters; a new respect for this much-loved musical. So maybe, just maybe, in 30 or so years I’ll be the elderly woman sitting there mouthing all the lyrics, dancing in my seat, and punching my fist in the air, like my captivated neighbor on Sunday afternoon.
Reviewed by Emily Schmidt
Hair continues at Mercury Theater through September 17th. More information here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.