Opening on Thursday Nov. 2 and running through Sunday, Nov. 5 Ursinus students will be performing a rendition of the rock musical “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” in honor of its 50th anniversary.
“Hair” is one of Ursinus’ largest productions to date. It is being directed by theater professor Domenick Scudera. Some of the students starring in “Hair” include Christian Eagen as Claude, Blaise Smith as Berger, and Clementine Harvey as Sheila. More than 50 students are involved in putting on the musical, both on-stage and backstage.
For the cast, rehearsals have consisted of music rehearsals, dance rehearsals, blocking rehearsals, and run throughs. The show has a non-stop energy and in an attempt to emulate and draw that animation forward, the rehearsals have emphasized that vibrant energy.
“Hair” debuted on Oct. 17, 1967 in The Public Theatre before opening on Broadway less than a year later. Its themes of pacifism and racial inclusivity directly responded to the Vietnam War and racism. Hair is a product of the 1960’s hippie counterculture and sexual revolution.
“Hair” originally broke ground in many ways. One third of its original cast was African American. It also features a non-linear plot. At the 1969 Tony Awards, the cast performed the musical’s more unique and confrontational numbers to the surprise and appalment of the audience. The cast wanted to shed light onto America’s romanticizing of the military and its racism towards African American people.
Some complications that the Ursinus cast has faced in putting on this large production is the amount of memorization involved. Since the musical consists of approximately 50 songs, and most of the cast is onstage for the play’s entirety, long hours of memorization and coordination are required in preparation for the show.
Another complication is getting the right atmosphere for the performance.
“We are playing hippies/activists, but, to be completely frank, most of the cast is white, so that’s brought up some good conversations about how we romanticize white hippie-dom,” said senior cast member Skye Gailing.
The racial diversity of the cast may not be on par with that of the Broadway rendition, but that’s not the musical’s only shortcoming in its goal for racial inclusivity.
“The play was written by multiple white men, and as a result, it lacks the perspective of the people of color who it was aiming to represent,” said sophomore cast member Art Thomas.
On a positive note, this realization brings to light how modern activism is trying to take a better, more intersectional turn. It is increasingly apparent that the inclusivity and ideas that “Hair” focused on in 1967 are still influencing modern activist movements and making them more inclusive. They may not be models to build around, but they are a good starting point.
“We are playing the young people of 1968 that want to change the norm and break out of the system with peace and freedom of expression. We almost lose our voices from screaming, ‘Peace now! Freedom now!’” said senior cast member Mya Flood.
The musical aims to prompt its viewers to consider the same questions that the characters confront on stage. What should matter? How should people of different backgrounds live together? These questions are just as important now as they were in 1967.
However, thanks to its unconventional, non-linear approach to plot development and its heavy reliance on songs, this may prove to be a more difficult task than wanted. The audience will have to actively pay attention to the lyrics and follow the different story lines closely if they wish to fully grasp the topics at hand.
“Hair” opens on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m., with another showing on Friday at the same time. Saturday has two showings, one at 2:00 p.m. and another at 7:30 p.m. It closes with Sunday, Nov. 5’s 2:00 p.m. performance. All performances will be at the Kaleidoscope in the Lenfest Theatre. Tickets are $8 dollars for the general public and $5 for students.