Nov 23, 2017

[Theater] Hair (Repertory Philippines) Review

Hair is one of those musicals that I had only seen as a movie up until this point. The 1979 film is a classic in its own right but of course it had a somewhat more controlled (and perhaps focused?) narrative as it was meant for commercial release bu even then a lot of what made the story such a representative of the era still sang through clearly.

But Hair as a stage musical is a completely different animal with a drastically different story. If the movie already felt rather fun and free, the musical is all that and more as it's certainly turned up to eleven. And that is both a great thing and possibly a confusing thing depending on your perspective.

It was interesting that a play that involves depictions liberal recreational drug use and a message of freedom and peace has been staged during a time when the government has been cracking down on illegal drugs with rather lethal results. Whether or not the message of the play directly applies to our country's situation I'll leave to you to determine for yourself.

Synopsis: Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a rock musical with book  and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. The Repertory Philippines staging was directed by Chris Millado and staged at Greenbelt OnStage from 17 November to 17 December 2017.

At the center of the play is this tribe of hippies led by Claude (Markki Stroem / Topper Fabregas). Other notable members of the tribe include Berger (George Schulze), who is particularly wild and free, and Sheila (Caisa Borromeo), a studeny at NYU and also quite the political activist. The tribe is in a pretty happy place as they continue to celebrate hippie values but also do their part in protesting against the on-going Vietnam War.

However Claude is conflicted about his future and wonders if he should actually go through with the draft and join the Army. Why Claude is feeling this way and how the rest of the tribe will react to his actions will certainly define the story as a whole. But of course it's also one trippy ride.

What I Liked: The play features some pretty strong talent and our three primary characters deliver some pretty strong performances. I was most struck by Schulze's performance as Berger as he felt like the most committed to the role in terms of remaining in character all the time complete with all the quirks and nuances you'd associate with such liberate use of drugs and other mind-altering substances. He's quite the character and manages to steal most scenes that he's involved in.

But major props to Maronne Cruz's performance as Jeanie as she has a tremendous set of pipes to work with. She belts with the best of them and certainly dominate the stage when she adds her voice to the chorus.

I also appreciated the set, as seemingly minimal as it was. The use of the curtains was a creative way to define the space but also play with light in a meaningful way.Whether it's just cutting through spotlights to create interesting grids to acting as an atypical canvas for the projector to shine images all made for great moments. And the liberal direction to often include the audience aisles as part of their performance space helped bring the play home.

What Could Have Been Better: The sound quality at OnStage has never been ideal as it was originally designed to be a movie theater and not a live performance space. This was especially felt in this production as it was weird to have some of the main speakers well above us and the inconsistent voice levels that made it harder to understand the words being sung. A lot of times faster songs become unintelligible and a lot of times the lead actors a hard to hear over the music. As the problem wasn't constant throughout the play, this tells me it could have been addressed.

I wasn't too keen on Markki Stroem as Claude. There's something about this singing that didn't quite deliver the emotions I expected from his character. He sings well enough and he has a respectable vocal range but it just feels somewhat flat. It probably didn't help that the structure of the play is quite fluid so it's hard to maintain a sense of coherence and direction given the many different songs talking about just about anything.

TL;DR: Hair is still a great musical and a lot of good fun. There is some on-stage nudity, as has been the reputation of this production, but it's not presented pornographically. The music carries more of the show and that's what you'll remember more. And thus the local production gets a good 4 crazy drug-induced hallucinations out of a possible 5.

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