MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Hair at the Mercury Theatre

The American Tribal, Love-Rock-Musical.

Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni

& James Rado.

Music by Galt MacDermot.

Directed by Brenda Didier.

Music Director: Eugene Dizon.

Choreographer:  Chris Carter.

At the Mercury Theatre, Chicago.

Passion, emotion, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll fuel “Summer of Love” (1967).

Based on their past productions, I knew that the creatives at the Mercury Theatre would mount a worthy rendition of the 60’s hippie classic, Hair. But I was impressed at the real spirit that director Brenda Didier’s brought to Hair. It has the passion, the manic sense of hope and determination that those hippies exhibited in those wild, cultural-chnaging times. Do-your-own-thing, anti-war and drugs filled the counter-cultural kids of the 60’s. Their revolt was against all things establishment and this musical spoke to their discontent. Didier’s Hair was as intense in-your-face  as I remember the original Chicago production.

As a celebration of life, an ode to freedom, and a passionate cry for hope and change, Hair defined one generation and it continues to inspire today. We join the tribe of the Age of Aquarius for the story of a group of friends choosing to speak up and sing out in celebration of love, life, and freedom. The first great rock musical, it has some of the most rousing and soulful songs ever written for the stage, including “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Aquarius,” and the memorable title song, “Hair.” This cast led by Matt Keffer (Berger) , Lliam  Quealy (Claude) and Michelle Lauto (Sheila) effectually understood what was the mindset of the hippies. They sing, dance and create chaos in tune with their tribal sense of freedom, love and doing what feels good.

This hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s produced several songs that became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical”, using a racially integrated cast and no set braking the fourth wall.

Newbies to Hair should appreciate the authenticity of this production as it sent me back to 68-69′ with vivid memories of shock and sense of rebellion I felt upon experiencing this amazing musical for the first time.

Personal Note from Tom Williams regarding Hair

In late 1968-69, I became familiar with Hair for several reasons: by that time I had seen many Broadway musicals both in Chicago and in NYC so Hair was another new show to see and because I knew someone in the cast. Over the course of the run of Hair at the old Shubert Theatre, I saw Hair 8-10 times or more. I witnessed the extreme reactions that the show garnered from different audiences.

Early performances brought many walkouts – some shouting their disapproval  out loud of the language, subject matter; some resisted the partial burning of the American flag (which happened only a few times).  Many just shook their heads in disbelief. But, I believe that everyone left the show changed – affected – exhilarated – troubled – and, of course, thoroughly entertained.  Once audiences got over or acclimated to the ground-braking attacks on the social norms of the establishment in the show, they witnessed a mesmerizing pop/rock high-energy Broadway musical that was a life-altering and musical theatre event that changed the rules. Broadway would never be the same. Like Showboat, like Oklahoma, like West Side Story, Hair broke barriers and moved the art in new directions.  (Add Hamilton) I can’t remember another musical having such a profound affect on audiences?

I have mixed memories of the show but, indeed, I was moved by the experience of Hair.  I was in the Illinois Army National Guard Military Police and I didn’t do drugs, nor protest and I was an establishment member working as a sales rep. Yet I was totally taken by the message of personal freedom that took me years before I made the decision to march to the beat of my own drummer. That is the message I got from Hair – never just conform – always challenge, do your own thing.

I also learned to appreciate risk-taking theatre, bouncy pop/rock scores and high-energy performers. So when I saw the present Mecury production, I was impressed by how they captured the free spirit  of the original production.   For me it was pure nostalgia; for young folks it may be a curiosity piece; but for all it is a manic, engaging love festival with a terrific infectious score. Who can resist?

Hair is one of those theatrical experiences everyone should have at least once. This Mercury Theatre’s production is one of the best I’ve seen since the original. It does those hippies justice. Be sure to experience this production.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At  the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call773-325-1700,, tickets $30 – $65,  Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, matinees on Saturday & Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through September 17, 2017.