Theatre review: Hair at the Long Beach Playhouse

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Theatre review: Hair at the Long Beach Playhouse

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The "tribe" from Hair celebrates the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Courtesy Michael Hardy

The "tribe" from Hair celebrates the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Courtesy Michael Hardy

Courtesy Michael Hardy

The "tribe" from Hair celebrates the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

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The ensemble-driven controversial hit from 1967 does not lose its potency when brought 52 years into the future— Hair still maintains excellent shape in the time-travel process under the direction of Rovin Jay. Long Beach Playhouse’s upstairs Studio Theater is an apt host for the display of psychedelic love, togetherness and every color possibly imaginable.

The roots of Hair are centered on a self-proclaimed tribe of activist hippies who call themselves the children of the Age of Aquarius. The members of the tribe all explore their coming of age in a time of love, war, sex and drugs with mixed returns. When draft summons are bestowed upon several of the tribe’s members, the microscope zooms in on the decision to be made: stay the course as a rebel and resist the draft, or conform and serve in the Vietnam War as a hypocrite.

A surplus of world building starts off the show. It is chock full of character introductions and back stories rivaling Game of Thrones or any 2000s ensemble romantic comedy (think Love Actually). If one can keep up with the first half of the first act, they will be able to keep key players Berger (Jacob Rachuy Stephenson),Woof (Jules Ronquillo), Hud (Lorne), Claude (Gregory Bystritski), and Sheila (Justyn High) noted as distinct individuals with storylines despite the tribe-centric mind of the show and its staging.

As far as the show’s merits are concerned, Hair’s primary strengths are in its songs. With half a century under its belt, most theater-goers would be remiss if they did not recognize heavily referenced classics such as “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Vocal strengths of the cast vary from gentle to powerhouse and the diversity lends even more ethos to the “be who you are” manifesto of Hair. Latonya Kitchen’s Dionne serves almost as a vocal lighthouse for the rest of her cast; her talent is impossible not to notice.

Several bright spots in Hair come from its diverse and multifaceted ensemble. Highlight performances include Stephenson’s Berger, who champions carefree camp with seemingly minimal effort; High’s Sheila is introspective and measures her performance out evenly with purity of spirit; and Bystritski’s Claude shines at his most luminous during his scenes of indecision and internal conflict. Most importantly, the three play off one another with ease, as if they have been friends for years.

Hair is not necessarily for every palate, inclusive as it is— it features many 1960s tropes that might be unsettling towards conservative minds such as illegal drug use, mild disrespect to the American flag, fluid sexuality and a first act finale featuring full frontal nudity by the majority of the cast. Even so, it is accurate and true to the time in which it is based and its heart and soul is evident. And above all, the message it has to share with the world is positive: love.

Hair runs until Nov. 16 at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theater, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are on sale at cost between $14 to $24. Online ticketing is available at lbplayhouse.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 494-1014. Note: The Studio Theater is on the 2nd Floor and is only accessible by stairs— there is no elevator.