Windsor’s Arts Collective Theatre (ACT Windsor) opened a magnificent reinvention of the first ever Broadway rock musical, Hair, now celebrating its 50th year, over the weekend as part of their inaugural 30 Under 30 program.
Hair features a tribe of hippies who are pro-peace, pro-love, and anti-war, during a time of protest and fight for liberation, social justice and equality. It comes out of the late 1960’s, a time of sexual expression, social activism, social revolution, and social unrest. A time where youth questioned belief in God, hard work, and service to their country. Americans, especially youth, rebelled against the unfair treatment of minority and black citizens, the war in Vietnam, and demanded full equality for women. Youth grew long hair, dressed in “strange” clothes, and expressed their dissatisfaction through rock and roll music.
The controversy of the times gave rise to the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, Hair, complete with taboo topics and controversial nude scenes. The late 1960’s was an era that is perhaps one of the most defining moments of the twentieth century, shaping society even to this very moment in time.
In an interview with Eyes On Windsor, ACT Windsor Artistic Director Chris Rabideau, says he chose to produce Hair, not only because it’s the 50th anniversary but because “we’re seeing it (social activism and unrest) happening all over again. As I read the script and looked at the music, I realized it might be fifty years later, but has everything changed? Are we seeing history repeat itself? And are we now in a time where people want to be heard again in a different way?”
Chris feels that although rights have been advanced, the call for social environment today mirrors that of the sixties more than ever before. “It’s more close to what we’re living in today than it ever was in history in many ways, back then we had the Black Power movement, now we have Black Lives Matter, you can see those social changes that have sort of switched, it might have a new name but it’s still there,” explains Chris. “We were at a time of social change, we’re in that time again fifty years later. We have the Me Too movement, LGBT rights, we have so many things being played out, where people feel like we’re living in an unjust world again.”
“Hair is the first broadway play that you saw a live rock band on stage playing pop music, sounding like The Beatles or Elton John, music that was playing on the radio, it references many musicians that inspired the generation of the late 1960’s. There are references to Mick Jagger and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin in the script.”
In addition to producing Hair because it’s the shows fiftieth anniversary, and mirrors the social unrest of the sixties in society today, Chris says it fits in with ACT Windsor’s three pillars, the social justice pillar, the community pillar, and the 30 Under 30 pillar. Hair was chosen specifically for the 30 Under 30 pillar/program. “The 30 under 30 program is where we give youth, 18 to 30 years old, the opportunity to be on stage within a short period of time, and they work with mentors to hopefully do a professionally looking show,” explains Chris.
Christ tells us that he wanted to “make Hair new again.” While the original play was a musical, dance was limited. “What we created is a whole new dance show, a rock show complete with LED video screens, I want people to see Hair and see history in front of them at the same time.”
The unique LED video screens that ACT Windsor has introduced into their production of Hair showcases footage of events from the 60’s. “The Vietnam War was the first televised war, I knew artistically it gave me the license to show footage from that era, and that was cool. So I thought that’s how we make the show new again, that’s how we teach and reshow the history that many people didn’t live through.”
“Hair was a revolutional show that changed musical theatre and awakened everyone to what was going on in the world. This show is about the Vietnam War, and we follow Claude who is the lead character and his best friend Berger, as they try to get through the political negativity that was happening. So you follow this guy, and everyone is burning their draft cards because they don’t want to go to war. Claude does not burn his draft card and he ends up going to war, and he dies. We’re meant to feel that loss and ask, what are we fighting for? Which in essence is what the show is about… What are we fighting for? Are you fighting for peace, love, happiness, or are we fighting for a war that is raging on and killing our brothers and sisters.”
Another unique aspect of ACT Windsor’s production of Hair is a female, Nico Di Tondo, cast in the role of Berger, which traditionally calls for a 20 year old white male. Chris explains, “we have always been doing blind casting from day one. We have always looked at how roles can be changed, and in this case, my assistant Leslie McCurdy suggested we make the the lead a girl. Berger is an outgoing crazy fun eccentric character against the war, it’s a woman now, in the play she is androgynous, and she’s in love with another woman named Sheila.”
When the show opened on Friday night ACT Windsor’s unique production of Hair came together and thrilled the crowd who gave a standing ovation as the cast closed with the hit song Aquarius (Let The Sunshine In). Eyes On Windsor highly recommends this show. Upcoming shows take place at the Capitol Theatre on September 14, 15, & 16, 2018.