“Hair” is just the show you need, and not what you expect

The cast singing and walking toward the camera
HAIR: Two River Theatre 2023. Photo by T Charles Erickson
A woman in singing and holding her arms up to her side
HAIR: Two River Theatre 2023. Photo by T Charles Erickson

Hair, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, exploded on stage at Two River Theater in Red Bank with all the energy associated with the cultural and societal upheaval of New York City in 1968. It is wild and joyous, filled with spirit and optimistic determination, insisting on the power of love and peace to fix the ills of the world. It sweeps its audience along until the whole theater is a gigantic be-in of delight.

The musical, with a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, encapsulated the spirit of youthful rebellion growing toward the end of the 1960s. The show gained attention for its realistic yet romanticized view of teens believing that dropping out of conventional society was the only way to effect change, as well as for its eclectic rock score – and its controversial (for the time) expressions of free love, open sexuality, and recreational drug use.

The show concerns itself with the daily lives of a hippie tribe in lower Manhattan, centering around an almost conventional love quadrangle: pregnant Jeanie (Olivia Oguma) loves film buff Claude (Jordan Dobson), who loves activist Sheila (Olivia Puckett), who loves free spirit Berger (Andrew Polec). Berger and Claude are best buds, although Claude’s caring spirit and bouts of introspective inaction contrast with Berger’s casual cruelty, impulsiveness, and selfishness. They interact with other members of their tribe: Black militant Hud (Tré Frazier); sweet-voiced Dionne (Janell McDermoth); the sweet, innocent-looking, yet highly sexualized Woof (Angel Sigala); and the slightly naive Crissy (Bailey Day Sonner). They are joined by the talented members of the ensemble, taking on a variety of roles throughout the show: Devin Cortez; Tiffany Francès; Delaney Love; and Darius Wright. 

The cast performs both well-known songs and hidden gems with effortless skill. McDermoth kicks off the show, performing “Aquarius,” a cappella. Sigala gives a surprising twist to “Don’t Put It Down” and shows his unbridled pleasure in sex by performing “Sodomy” with an innocently ecstatic glow. Sonner brings a sweetly ditzy approach to the plaintive comic number “Frank Mills.” Puckett’s “Easy to Be Hard” shows the vulnerability and hurt under the militant facade Sheila shows the world. Dobson uses “Manchester, England” as his musical mantra of self-identity throughout the show, while his “Where Do I Go?” expresses increasing inner conflict between what he feels he should do in relation to the direction others think he should take. The large ensemble numbers – especially “Aquarius,” “Be-In,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and the title number – are a kaleidoscopic display of voice and movement.

Director James Vásquez and choreographer Mayte Natalio capture the spirit of the times, encouraging the cast to fully subsume themselves in their characters and getting them to move with a loose-limbed fluidity not often seen in musicals. Scenic designer Tim Mackabee has created an unmistakably urban space with graffiti-covered brick walls and a tall upstage chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, its presence giving a subtle feeling of trapping the tribe within convention. The onstage band is put through their paces by musical director Noah Teplin. A special shout-out goes to the wig, hair, & makeup designer, J. Jared Janas, whose work captures the look and styles of the late 60’s, especially for the men.

Sexy, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Hair roars onto the stage, vibrantly painting a picture of what was, in some ways, a more innocent and hopeful time. If your only exposure to Hair is the movie version or what you may have read about it when it was staged on Broadway, you need to see it live and on stage now. This production of Hair is messy and alive, and I can almost guarantee you will have one hell of a time in Red Bank! GO SEE HAIR!

Hair is presented by Two River Theater in the Rechnitz Theatre in Red Bank through October 22nd. For tickets or to get more information, go to tworivertheater.org or call 732-345-1400.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has recently been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre reviewers. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.