Berkshire Theatre Group: 'Hair' holds up more than 50 years later
STOCKBRIDGE — Every decade has a show that speaks directly to that moment in time. Strangely, those shows endure to educate and/or entertain later generations, as well.
There are few that would deny that "Hair" is the musical that speaks most clearly about the 1960s to today's audiences. One person who agrees with that premise is Daisy Walker, who is directing "Hair" for Berkshire Theatre Group in its Unicorn Theater.
"`Hair' spoke to the era with clarity and heart," she says. "I think because it captured the period so effectively is why we can appreciate it 50 years later."
Walker is quick to point out that "Hair" can be enjoyed for more than its historical significance. "The score is amazing," she says, quickly naming "Let the Sun Shine In," "Aquarius," and "Good Morning Sunshine" as songs from the show that have become classics.
She also agrees it is critical they do not create a production that simply reports on the past. "We live in a period of protest. I think the real message of `Hair' is a call to activism. I can't help relating the young people in `Hair' and the young people who took an active stand about Parkland."
She adds, "The '60s were a time when the administration was not doing anything you believed in. It will be impossible to leave a performance of `Hair' and not make comparisons to today's political environment."
Nonetheless, Walker is not trying to create an anti-show. "I recognize there is a lot of rage today. But I would like to also find the hope that exists in the material. Despite the anger and frustration in `Hair,' there is joy, as well. I want the audience to leave with hope for the future."
She believes the joy will come from the musical score and enthusiastic performances of her young cast. "We have an amazingly talented group of people in the show, who are learning about the era for the first time. It's exciting to see their enthusiasm for the material."
However, she claims her secret ingredient that will make "Hair" both respectful to its origins and meaningful to modern audiences is her musical director, Eric Svejcar. "He was born to direct 'Hair,'" she says. Sounding awed, she tells how when they first started their collaboration, they discussed recordings of the show. "He casually asked me if I'd like to hear the French or German cast album. He has them all. He knows everything about the show and its production history. I can't imagine anyone loving this show more than Eric." Walker also admits the book of "Hair" can be soft. "I was surprised to see how little story there is," she says. "My first reaction was, `It's almost like a revue.'"
But as she researched the material, it took on added depth and the relationships began to reveal themselves. As an example, she realized the musical's central figure Claude is "an outsider." Claude is the young man who has been drafted to go to Vietnam. His choice whether to go or avoid the draft gives the play its conflict and emotional depth.
Her choice, based on research, shows him as an outsider — which is contrary to the film and other interpretations. She says this outsider status permits the audience to experience his journey in a different way. She believes Claude's struggles with his conscience permit the audience to relate to his personal dilemma in a more objective manner. "It's not `let's hang with these cool people and have a groovy time.' His choices are tough and real."
As an homage to the original, Walker made the choice to include nudity in the production. The scene, which was once scandalous and shocking, is usually done under extremely soft light and performed under gauze. Walker didn't go into detail about her approach, saying only, "It will be done in good taste and it is totally voluntary."
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