What is amazing about Blank Canvas’ production of “Hair” is not so much the singing (they really do an admirable job for the most part) or the costumes or even the acting. The amazing thing is the fact they fit eighteen people onto a tiny stage area and they manage not to trip on each other or collide as they prance about.
“Hair” got its start off-Broadway in October of 1967 at the Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and after a move to a midtown discotheque opened on the Great White Way where it ran for 1,750 performances. In London it was good for 1,997 shows and has been seen around the world in one form or another. In March of 2009 it hit the stage agian where it won a Tony and Drama Desk Award for best revival. The original cast recording sold over three million copies.
“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” as it is officially known was one of the first “rock musicals” with book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot. It was a show that hit at the right time with the right message. “Hair” is a microcosm of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. Back in the day it was a “let it all hang out” and “Do your own thing” existence.
The show features street profanity, illegal drug use, sex, nudity and anti-establishment behavior (or as us hippy oldsters refer to it “the good ol’ days”). The music is the driving force of the show’s 37 songs that each depict social breakthroughs at the time (open sexuality, new age religion, black equality, drugs, hassles with “the man”, the draft, relationships, poverty, communes and free thought). At the end of the show the cast goes out into the seating area to bring audience members onstage to sing along with “Let the Sun shine In” during the final Be-In.
“The Tribe” is a group of politically active hippies in New York City trying to survive by living the bohemian commune life while attempting to keep the male members out of the army during the height of the Vietnam War. Claude, Berger, Sheila and the rest of the tribe try to balance their lives while dealing with two worlds (hippie and straight). While all of the tribe members rebel against “Capitalistic America” they still rely on money “from home” in order to survive.
The main focus of the show is when Claude must make a choice concerning the draft. Should he take the advice of the tribe or buckle under to the pressure from his parents and conservative America to serve in Vietnam which will compromise his pacifist principles. In the end he chooses to join the Army and pays the ultimate price. Even after over forty years the show is just as hard hitting due mainly to the fact that not a whole lot has changed. America is still at war, drugs are still an epidemic (with an entire economic structure to deal with “the problem”), Freedom and self realization for all is still an exclusive club in this country, religion remains a hot and ambiguous topic and poverty still plagues one of the richest countries in the world. It is not hard to see how a generation later people still relate to the show.
In this production by Blank Canvas Theatre, strong performances are forthcoming from a variety of actors including Scott Esposito as Claude (if you overlook his rather poor attempt at an English accent), Jessie Cope Miller as Sheila (who has the strongest singing voice of the cast), Trey Gilpen as Woof and Devon Settles as Hud. Nicky Belardo, while looking the part and effectively portraying the sexuality needed for the character has too high a voice. The cast made excellent use of space and the use of video and sound effects was quite effective. The show moved well and there was no “dead air” in the entire performance. I should also mention that the band was excellent.
Prude Alert: It’s “Hair” in all it’s in your face, let it all hang out, profane, sexually explicit, drug infused glory. Flower Children will love it, Straights need not apply.
Beefs and Flubs: While the summer heat problem that is inherent with the theater was slightly improved with the addition of fans in the lobby and theater proper, it still got pretty toasty in the last hour of the show. I would suggest a fan placed strategically in front of the air conditioners on the far wall to shoot a little cool breeze over the audience. As in most miked productions, the ensemble work is great but the solo numbers fall flat due to low volume on the individual mikes. The solos really need to be punched up to be more effective.
Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): Taking a big stage production and trying to fit it in a small theater space is always a risky proposition but due to the energy and precision of this cast this show works well on a lot of levels. It gives this staging an even more intimate feel which is what the original creators sought.
Scott Esposito as Claude, Jessie Cope Miller* as Sheila, Nicky Belardo as Berger, Tonya Broach as Dionne, Cevon Settle as Hud, Becca Frick as Jeanie, Trey Gilpen as Woof, Neely Gevaart as Chrissy, Wesley Allen, Andrea Belser, Roderick Cardwell II, Venchise Glenn, Shannon Hubman, Joanna May Hunkins, Jillian Mesaros, Kate Leigh Michalski, David Turner and Joe Virgo as “The Tribe”
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association of America
Patrick Ciamacco, Director, Technical Director and Set & Sound Design; Brad Wyner, Music Director; Lawrence Wallace, Assistant Music Director; Jessie Cope Miller, Choreographer; CJ Pierce, Stage Manager; Luke Scattergood, Costume Design; Perren Hedderson, Projection Design; Cory Molner, Lighting Design; Alex DiMichelle, Sound Operator; Becca Frick, Assistant Scenic Painter; Noah Hrbek, Planet Scenic Painting and Andy Dudik, Photographer
Brad Wyner, Conductor/Keyboards; Jon Conley, Guitar; Tim Keo, Bass and James Gray, Drums
The Blank Canvas Theatre production of “Hair” is currently playing through September 13, 2014. Blank Canvas Theatre performs in Suite 211at 78th Street Studios which is located at 1305 W. 78th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44102.
Upcoming Performances of Blank Canvas Theatre’s production of “Hair” are on September 5, 6, 12 and 13, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. and September 7, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
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Blank Canvas Theatre
78th Street Studios
1305 W. 78th Street. Suite 211
Cleveland, Ohio 44102