“Hair” at Arts West

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Cast of HAIR
photo by Michael Brunk

Welcome to the ’60s, when youth reigned supreme, or at least a good segment of that population believed they had answers to many of society’s problems and set about to make some changes. Their ideas about sex, drugs, militarism, race, and misuse of the environment challenged the status quo.

“Hair” the rock musical that first opened in 1967 brought all these provocative concepts to the stage where they outraged some segments of the population but generally delighted reviewers. The musical moved from one small stage in New York to another and then in 1968 to one of the large Broadway houses where it ran for four years. It has been produced again and again ever since. Certainly it was groundbreaking theatre with its bold nudity, its glorification of the drug culture, its commitment to the antiwar movement, and its disdain for tradition and puritanical sexual mores.

The Arts West production, directed by David Gassner, has an energetic cast that brings zest to the rousing rock music and accompanies it with vigorous dancing. Mathew Wright’s five-piece band makes a big, big sound, and Burton Yuen’s clever set with its arches is evocative of Washington Square Park in the Village in downtown Manhattan. After all, Greenwich Village was an epicenter for hippiedom.

This is lively entertainment where the musical performances cause the theatre to vibrate with energy. The night I was there, younger audience members responded with exceptional enthusiasm to this bit of history that they have read about but did not experience. For older audience members, those who lived through the period, it’s a reminder of how different our culture was some 45 years ago.

In some ways, the show is like an excavated fossil. So many of the ’60’s attitudes that were railed against by the youth culture are no longer an issue. We have legalized marijuana here in Washington. Sexual attitudes are more realistic now. Draft cards haven’t been around for decades.

Maybe it’s time for another fresh, dynamic musical that pays attention to the unresolved racial and environmental issues and the problem of gun misuse in our country. After all, “Hair” reminds us that when the disaffected truly take on the establishment, some real change is possible.

Through June 7 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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