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Hair at University of Pittsburgh Stages

All the vibrancy redoubles the power of the lyrics’ anti-war refrain

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I saw Hair at University of Pittsburgh Stages on Nov. 10 — a day when, the show’s joyous opening number notwithstanding, the world actually did not seem to be experiencing “the dawning of the age of Aquarius.” Indeed, for many, two days after the elevation of an ignorant demagogue to the presidency, something other than unbridled optimism loomed.

Yet this touchstone 1967 show — which certainly grapples with its own darkness — still resonates, and Pitt’s spirited production does help to call us back to hope.

Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt McDermot) is an anti-war musical from the perspective of some New York City hippies. Scantily plotted, often scantily clad, it broke Broadway taboos on drugs, casual sex, race relations and more, all while spoofing parents, other authority figures and consumer culture. Pitt’s production, directed by Cindy Croot, features a massive cast of 30 (plus a five-piece rock band) on a stage dominated by scaffolding and tapestry projections.

With songs like “Dead End,” “I Believe in Love,” “Freedom” and the exultant title number, the show explores the Vietnam-era counterculture with varying degrees of incisive irony and charming earnestness. Among the hard-working student cast, Matt Keefer is fine as the preening George, while Sarah Fling and Dan Mayhak impress, respectively, as righteous activist Sheila and proud Claude, whose torment over whether to heed the draft provides the show’s central drama. Other standouts include Harry Hawkins IV (as Hud), Reilly Galvin (Crissy) and Davis Weaver (Woof). And special mention to Ben McClymont, who nearly steals the show enacting an hilarious cameo by anthropologist Margaret Mead.

The singing ranges from solid to terrific (musical direction: Robert Frankenberry), with lively choreography by Amanda Olmstead. And all the vibrancy redoubles the power of the lyrics’ anti-war refrain, “how dare they try to end this beauty.”

Hair’s characters seek to build a society based on love and free expression in a world that seems violently opposed to such concepts. Pitt Stage’s production is almost enough to make you forget the election it’s making you remember.

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