Sacramento HAiR Rings True (for the most part)!

We saw the Artistic Differences production of HAiR in Sacramento on Saturday. It was sold out and many thanks to Executive Producer Erick Daniells who managed to find three extra seats for me, Barb (my partner/producer in San Jose) and our daughter Ashley. I had exchanged several emails with director Maggie Hollinbeck so I was very interested in what they were doing. Their performance space is very small (even smaller than ours at Theatre on San Pedro Square) although it does have the benefit of height which they used very effectively (their theater goes up over 2 stories, over 20 feet whereas TOSPS has a ceiling height of just 11 feet above the stage which makes height not much of an option for us).Â

Overall, I rate this production as an A, by far the best I have seen on the West Coast. As with any show, there were weaknesses, but it was HAIR, which isn’t always the case. It started like HAIR, did most of the book like HAIR and ended (for the most part) like HAIR. The feeling you got at the end (compared, for instance, to the feeling at the Fullerton College production which was almost despairing) was an expected sense of hope and joy that we can do better, even in the face of Claude’s death.

At the beginning, the entire tribe mingled with the audience, passing out sugar cubes (uggh, almost worse than REAL acid :-), beads, panhandling, doing tricks, hugging everyone who came in, just like real hippies. They got 10 bonus points right from the start for their authentic pre-show. They played a cute “alarmist” video of a guy named “Agent Titus” who was, I suppose, a CIA or FBI operative who warned us all the things we couldn’t do in the theater and where the exits were if we wanted to escape! It was a cute way to integrate the mandatory theater warnings that everyone has to do in California now.

The actual opening of the show was pretty good, although there seemed to be some confusion over how to handle the hair snipping ceremony. There wasn’t much focus on it (in the original show, the tribe would be frozen at that point, but here, everyone seemed to still be moving around and it was distracting a bit).Â

Berger was a hoot. He was very different from typical Bergers, not as macho, but he still had that “crazy” feel to him. He also had a terrific voice.  They had a black Claude, who was also very good. But (among the males) the best was their Woof. He was fantastic (in fact, I think he could have played ANY of the three roles and would have been amazing). Their Hud was also terrific, he nailed the attitude perfectly, and his rendition of Colored Spade was the best I’ve seen I think since I saw Ben Vereen do it in Los Angeles.

Sheila was pretty good, although she struck me as a little young (but I may be biased 🙂 for the part (not that I think the actor was necessarily young, but she played it very young).  She was good vocally (in fact the entire tribe was excellent vocally, this was a fabulous production with respect to the music, and they had a great 7 piece band playing too, which added to the feeling, including the horns, etc.)  Their Dionne didn’t do as much as other Dionne’s usually do (they seemed to split things from the script to other people, which is fine, IMHO) but she was good, as was Jeannie (she sang Hippie Life in Act I, right where I think it belongs, after the line about “anyone who thinks pot is bad is full of shit” except she did it as a solo, and I thought it could have used some back-up singers, as we are doing it).Â

On the distaff side, the real standout was Crissie, who looked like she was plucked from the Haight, and had a voice to match. Her rendition of Frank Mills was superb, pretty much Shelly Plimpton reincarnate!Â

The set was very interesting. Lots of JUNK (as there should be!) and lots of signs and grafitti. However, they made it more “real” than I imagine it should be, and that sometimes seemed a bit distracting.  Instead of a scaffold or platform, there was a real balcony, and a real door and things like that. It wasn’t bad, just a little different.  But still better than a bare stage or completely abstract set or one done in lots of psychedelic colors. It had that feel of “back alley hippie” which was good.

Most of Act I was very good, although they dropped Initials (one of my favorites) and ditto for Dead End. Choreographically the show was often authentic but it did sometimes show signs of a little too much coordinated choreography (for instance most of the tribe moving their hands in precisely the same direction at the same time during several songs). But that is a small criticism.Â

The Margaret Mead scene was great, the Margaret had a great voice (awesome falsettoand lots of air to hold the note!).

Overall, the dance was very good and meaningful. The toughest problem I had with the choreography came in the Be-In which I felt was the one place they let it turn into just a “staged dance”. However, they more than made up for that by staging one of the best nude scenes I have seen (I wrote about this in the Hair Strands thread but I will repeat it here).Â

They had everyone in caftans (not Krshna robes) and they danced and then the guys burned their draft cards and Claude didn’t (gee, you all probably know that already ;-) And the tribe went to its knees and Claude sang Where Do I Go. At the end, Berger stood up and in a single movement shed his caftan and gradually in singles, pairs, groups, the tribe dropped their clothes and stood up nude. There was no attempt to dim the lights beyond visibility, or shine bright lights in our eyes to blind us. Just a plain and simple scene, with no frills and very direct and poignant. And even a bit startling. Which is precisely what you want to invoke in the audience. And no, Claude didn’t shed his caftan.  It was very definitely great.

Then the lights went out and the cops came and that was still a funny bit (everyone laughed).

Act II started a little weakly. The Electric Blues number didn’t even lead to a blackout, and Claude walked in (no gorilla suit, nothing) and Electic Blues didn’t make much sense that way. They dropped Oh Great God of Power and there was no Young Recruit scene (oh yes, and in Act I they dropped the movie scene too, which is of course optional, but I think it helps explain Claude/Berger/Sheila and is important).

White Boys and Black Boys, even without any special costumes or wigs was very good (good performers can make up for a lack of props/costumes/wigs, etc.)Â And then we get to my favorite part of the show, the trip.

They used nudity in Walking In Space, which caused me a bit of a problem the way they did it. Unlike the nude scene in Act I, this seemed a bit gratuitous. Only the girls took off their tops (and only their tops as far as I could see, although the lighting was particularly “trippy” so I was harder to see everyone). The guys remained clothed for the most part. I wasn’t sure what motivated it and I am still not sure I liked it. I have always wanted to add several nude people to the scene in a sort of nude ballet, but this wasn’t what I had imagined.

The rest of the trip was great except I wasn’t thrilled with having Claude walking through it. Call me traditionalist, but I think he should stay either lying down or seated through most of it. People who hallucinate don’t generally wander all over (at least not the people I hallucinated with MANY YEARS AGO! ;-) They did move Don’t Put It Down to the trip and it was okay, although not completely understandable (especially because there was no flag). 3-5-0-0 was awesome as was the ending. When they got to Good Morning Starshine, I was really feeling like this was a great HAiR.Â

At was precisely after this moment, that, for about 10 minutes, I got lost. For whatever reason, they decided that they needed to “explain” the whole Claude/Sheila thing and so they added a scene in which Claude and Sheila go up to the balcony (his room?!) and dance around sleeping together. Jeanie goes up and tries to get involved, but Claude disses her again (I think once in the show is enough 😉 and in the end, Sheila says “Claude, I can’t do this” and bails out. I have to go track down the book version of the show from my library because that scene may have come from the book version (which, to the best of my knowledge, has never actually been produced in that form ever!). It may also have come from the original off-Broadway production, but I don’t know how they would have known about that (unless someone on their team saw it many years ago).Â

In any case, when they finally got back to the “real” show, it became really great once again, and the ending was mostly 100% effective. They did something I think is pretty important, which, after Claude dies, to sing LTSSI a number of times, in a sort of mournful way, and then finally turn it into a celebraion for all (actors and audience).Â

So, while there were faults (as there will always be – I expect my show will have its share as well :-), it was a very good version of HAiR. Full of heart and full of relatively authentic acting and singing.

Bravo to the Nimiipuu tribe of Sacramento. A great job on a great show!



Jon Rosen




This entry was posted on Monday, May 21st, 2007 at 4:25 PM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

3 Responses to “Sacramento HAiR Rings True (for the most part)!”

  1. americanblue said:

    I am wondering if you had a chance to see the performance at Cal State Northridge last spring. I just saw the Sacramento show and while I loved it, I still think the Cal State Northridge cast did it best. I also saw Fullerton, which I regret.

  2. bleurose said:

    I have heard about the CSUN show but did not have the good fortune to see it.

    Glad you enjoyed the Sacramento show as I did. And while I didn’t regret seeing the Fullerton show, to paraphrase a wonderful line some terrific lyricists once wrote, “my eyes have opened, my eyes have opened, wide” 🙂 In retrospect, I see that Fullerton was clearly not a very good Hair production (although I did like Tom P. as Berger a lot).

    As a director of an upcoming production, I am sure people will have criticisms of what I do (fortunately I take criticism well 😉

    I have been seeing other Hairs because I think it helps for two different reasons:

    (a) it helps me see what I should do; and

    (b) it helps me see what I shouldn’t do.

    Each show has some (a)’s and some (b)’s (I have certainly yet to see the “perfect” show that is all (a)’s 🙂

    I certainly got a lot of good (a)’s and a few (b)’s from Sacramento, and, believe it or not, a lot of good (a)’s and a few (b)’s from Bishop O’Dowd High School as well whereas I got far more (b)’s from Fullerton and fewer (a)’s.

    I am very much interested to see where the equation will fall on the Mountain Play production we will be seeing this coming Sunday.


  3. JohnZ said:

    While I did not see the Sacramento HAiR production, I did see Fullerton College (twice) and CSUN (maybe about 7 times!).

    I do agree that the CSUN production was excellent, IMHO. It was interesting to see a production that addressed some of the problems I personally have with the “traditional” (Broadway?) stagings, offering new and innovative approaches that, IMHO, ranged from brilliant to good tries. I rank the CSUN productions on my short list of excellent HAiRs.

    I regret not being able to see the Sacramento production, if for no other reason than the fact that they reportedly used nudity in “Walking In Space.” I have always felt that bare skin was demanded by the lyrics, while I have somewhat bothered with its “traditional” placement in “Where Do I Go?”

    As for Fullerton College, I feel that the HAiR message still came across even though the show was plagued by poor directorial and musical rendition choices. I still enjoyed it, and this is saying a lot from a person who attended closing night when they chose to have Burger stand alone upstage left and wave to members of the audience long after all the rest of the tribe had carried Claude’s body up the aisle and out of the auditorium! Even Fullerton College came up with a staging idea that, I believe has a lot of merit: their use of the chain link fences to box in the tribe during “Dead End.”

    Blessed be with peace, love, freedom, and happiness!

Leave a Reply

*Required (Not published)