HAIR - Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge
Besides a wonderful, quirky, versatile score peppered with pop favorites from the late 60s, the real star of HAIR at Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge is the dynamo Latoya Edwards, sadly underutilized in a supporting role of Dionne in a busy but uneven production on the Unicorn Stage. Ms. Edwards, in chuchchoir soloist mode, grabs the audience with the opening notes of “Aquarius” in a piercing rendition, instantly rendering the pop standard a clarion call for a new age full of “golden living dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelation”. Too bad the rest of the production doesn't match her talent.
Immortalized as America’s first rock musical, HAIR, set in 1968, tells the tale of the all-American Claude, from an Archie Bunker family in Queens. Facing the Vietnam draft, he escapes into a downtown Manhattan tribe of hippies led by a charismatic Berger. Unfortunately, Berger gets a thoroughly annoying, almost obnoxious, portrayal, and a boyish Claude comes across as rather bland. With male leads so disappointing, lucky there’s plenty for the undercast to do (but not enough for Ms. Edwards), with nearly three dozen songs with music by Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Jerome Ragni and James Rado. Kayla Foster, who plays Berger’s girlfriend Sheila, applies a lilting, plaintive tone to the pop hits “Easy to Be Hard” and later "‘Good Morning Sunshine”. And, for a few giddy moments, the ensemble achieves whimsical abandon with title number “Hair”.
But for most of Act 1, the show wobbles through Ragni and Rado’s book (not the strongest material to begin with), teetering on a brink of college production or musical revue, until Claude’s soul-searching, beautifully melodic “Where Do I Go”, staged (to shock and awe for audiences of the original New York production) with the tribe casting off their clothes in an expression of free love. In Stockbridge the nudity occurs way upstage (as far from the audience as possible) and unlit. Sexual liberation… but in the dark? It just plays silly. Why bother?
Act 2, too, has some peculiar directorial choices, especially a cringe-inducing routine involving a poster of Mick Jagger. This HAIR finally gets soul, all too briefly, in a show stopping, trio number called “White Boys” led Ms Edwards. With another Black actor, a perky Ariel Blackwood, and a spunky Asian, Sarah Sun Park, Ms. Edwards belts out this delicious, pop/rock, ditty about the sex appeal of males of the opposite race to minority girls who just wanna have fun. (“White boys are so lovely/ Beautiful as girls / I love to run my fingers / And toes through all their curls”). Choreographer Lisa Shriver’s work is best here, but Ms Edwards makes this ass-grinding, hip-swinging, feet-skipping number fly. A girl can’t be taught how to move like that. And her voice? Patti LaBelle watch out.
“Black Boys”, “White Boys” companion piece (white girls fantasizing about black guys) precedes it, and it’s surprising director Daisy Walker doesn’t duel off the two in reprise to keep the adrenaline running because it’s the only time this HAIR really pumps. Most puzzling, though, is the direction of the ensemble finale, “Let the Sun Shine In”, where Ms Edwards isn’t allowed a musical arrangement to lead the signature 60s anthem to soaring gospel heights. She’d take the roof off the Unicorn. What a waste.