by Jason Mount
The age of Aquarius dawned at Rider with “Hair,” a rock musical about love, happiness and freedom.
Anti-war posters decorated the wooden platforms that created a playground for the members of the cast, or “Tribe X,” to perform on, as the skyline of New York City was silhouetted in the back and lush green turf sprawled the stage itself.
The visually intriguing set pieces appeared to help the actors find the inspiration to be free, according to junior acting major Victoria Robles.
“I really loved the acting and the set,” Robles said. “I liked how intricate the set was and how the actors really made it their own, not by decorating it, but using the stage as if it were a safe space.”
“Hair” was a playful production, evident as early as the first few minutes when Berger, played by junior musical theater major Dante Pereto, spoke directly to the audience as an introduction to himself, the tribe and the beliefs they shared.
As the musical progressed, themes of love, liberation, race and sexuality were freely celebrated with upbeat songs such as “Donna” and “Manchester England.” The most invigorating songs for junior musical theater major Tessa Douglas, however, were in the second act.
“The most electrifying numbers of the night had to be ‘Black Boys’ and ‘White Boys.’ The performances were so energetic and fun. It really brought to light issues surrounding race in a creative way, and the ensemble’s singing and dancing made me want to get out of my seat and dance along,” Douglas said.
While “Hair” told the story of Claude and his mixed feelings about being drafted into the Vietnam War, the main plot is sprinkled with protests as examples of the counterculture the musical represents.
One scene involved the members of the tribe led by Sheila, who was played by senior musical theater major Elise Shangold, as they entered the stage holding signs adorned with symbols of peace and sayings such as “lay not slay” and “make love not war.”
Another scene exemplifying protests was the “Be-In” that closed the second act. “Tribe X” gathered in front of the draft induction hall with the intention of protesting the war, culminating in one of the most memorable scenes of the production when the ensemble stripped their clothing as the main lights dimmed and police lights colored the theater.
“The actors definitely needed to step out of their comfort zone,” Robles recalled. “I didn’t really think that some of the actors would really get naked on stage but they actually did it, which I found liberating. I commend them for finding that confidence.”
Douglas also appreciated the bold choice of the production’s nudity, and found that it helped support the tribe’s cause.
“The nudity part of ‘Hair’ was beautifully executed,” Douglas said. “Dimming the lights helped them get their point across in an artistic way without making the audience feel uncomfortable.”
The bold choices and political aspects of “Hair” stood out to Douglas, and she believed the musical addressed issues still prevalent today.
“I feel this has been one of the most thought provoking musicals that Rider has done since I’ve been here,” she said. “It really encouraged the audience to think about the multiple issues we are facing in America such as pollution, race and violence.”
Robles also enjoyed the political messages that powered “Hair,” and the setting of the late 1960s helped audience members both young and old to connect the issues discussed to modern times.
“It was very politics-heavy, and the audience definitely picked that out 100%,” Robles said. “The show mainly focuses on peace and nonviolence, which is why they’re protesting against war and standing up for other important issues. A lot of people around that time thought it was very important to them, and I’m sure the audience members on the older side can still relate… While members on the younger side are being educated on the subject.”
Douglas believed that the themes and messages conveyed in “Hair” were important for the audience to take note of, so that a change can start to be made to combat such issues.
Douglas said, “I think something the audience took away from this production is that we need to start having these difficult conversations with one another if we want to see a change in the world.”
Published in the 12/4/19 edition