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07.23.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Shannon Stowe
FINDING HIMSELF: Joey Banks' Claude looks for answers to the dilemmas of the '60s in 'Hair.'

That '60s Show

City Lights goes tribal with revival of 'Hair'

By Marianne Messina


THE ETHNIC diversity of the "tribe" (a.k.a. cast) performing in City Lights Theater Company's Hair would probably have been the envy of the 1968 Broadway musical production, itself considered a musical capstone on civil rights, sexual liberation, antiwar sentiments and other upheavals of the '60s. Directed by Lisa Mallette (who has smartly parsed her introductory speech into shorthand to be carried on placards), City Lights' tribal chemistry is less cult-tight and more 21st-century fun, from the moment cast members greet you proffering flowers and offering to paint your face. Designer Ron Gasparinetti accents the flower power by bordering the set with hot-pink mushrooms, brightly colored flowers, clouds, sworls, yellow ink blots (or is that our brains on acid?) and a yellow-orange sun staring out from dead center like a third eye.

Short on plot, long on ambience, Hair is a love-in with an incidental story line about a young man named Claude (Joseph Banks), who is still trying to "find himself" when he gets his draft notice. With a little help from his draft-card-burning, free-loving friends, Claude must decide, "Where do I go from here?" The show spends a good deal of the first act in song (music by Galt MacDermot), mostly murky introductions of the tribe's ethos and members, anti-stereotypes all.

Writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni render the tribe's iconoclasm in impressionistic word lists like "Sodomy, Fellatio, Cunnilingus, Pederasty ... ," so I'll dedicate my summation of the show's highlights to them: coital simulations, silken nudity, strobing gunshots, hot hirsute Margaret Mead (RB Embleton), audience invasion, black light, Day-Glo body paint, candle vigils, dance-groove finale. These lyrical lists have their charm. As Hud (Phillip C. Pettiford) sings "Colored Spade," Woof (high-energy Jacob Vega Canote) sings "Sodomy," Berger (an exuberant Noel Carey) sings "Donna," and Claude sings "Manchester, England," their juvenile rebelliousness reminds us that these life-wild kids are such stuff as war fodder is made off.

People who know the music or have seen the show may be harder to please than neophytes. This enjoyable, nevertheless generic, production captures the mood but doesn't freshen or flesh it out. The wonderfully live music occasionally drags, wallows in muddy tones and wants some riffing—or at least juice. But the cast, er, tribe, is chock-full of great singers, from Banks and Michelle Ianiro (Ronny), who sings "Aquarius," to singers with smaller parts that jump out as pleasant surprises, like Ashley Bawdon and Nicole C. Julien (as Dionne). The City Lights tribe capture both the innocence—Raime Gerardy is a blonde doll of a virginally 16-year-old Crissy—and sensuality, of which thin, thrusting Pettiford and flag-bikinied Tenaya Hurst provide eye-catching examples.

Though this Hair is more fest than invocation, it has a strong finish. "What a piece of Work Is Man," staged with the duo singing on high from the catwalks, packs punch. And in the production's finale, the carefully folded flag traveling from hand to hand toward the fallen soldier-hero makes it impossible not to think of our daily Iraq War "honor rolls." The immediacy of the tribe's howling, "Let the Sunshine In," drummer Gabby Horlick building a wall of cymbal crashes in the air, makes one wonder if the tribe might not have personal connections to this honor ritual.


HAIR, A City Lights Theater Company production, plays Wednesday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm (July 27 and Aug. 3) and 2pm (Aug. 10, 17 and 24) through Aug. 24 at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $25–$40. (408.295.4200)


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