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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hippies, rock 'n' roll, free love: 'Hair' opens tonight

Cast members of
Cast members of

"Hair" first opened on Broadway in 1968, revolutionizing American musical theater with its racy dialogue, psychedelic attitudes and blatant disregard for convention and conformity. And never had sticking it to the proverbial man been so much fun. "Hair" celebrated an era of free love, where people protested the Vietnam War, dodged the draft and burned American flags. The musical celebrated the birth of the counter-culture, the hippies and hair -- long, beautiful hair, shoulder length or longer, long as God could grow it.

"Hair" centralizes around the "Tribe," a group of friends living the bohemian lifestyle in New York City (Think "Rent" minus AIDS plus a far superior musical score). Theater major Christa Hinckley '08, who plays the role of Sheila, describes the "Tribe" as "a disenfranchised group who comments on the state of society in which they are forced to live but refuse to accept." Political activists, hippies, Black Panther members, bisexuals and various free spirits -- "Hair" has it and isn't afraid to flaunt it.

At the time of its debut, "Hair" was both shocking with its offensive language and unabashed nudity, and simultaneously groundbreaking with its use of a mixed-race cast and its call for onstage audience participation with a "Be-in" finale. Dartmouth isn't backing down, refusing to shy away from the challenge that "Hair" presents -- it's going to be just as loud, just as rocking, and just as energetic as a well-worn vinyl.

The theater department's production boasts a 28-member cast and a full rock 'n' roll ensemble that remains faithful to the original musical score. The scenery promises to be evocative of Woodstock, reflecting nature and a hippie utopia.

"Hair is a full-blown community event -- costumes designed by resident faculty, set designs built by students with the aid of visiting artist Felix Coxran, dance sequences choreographed by Dartmouth," theater professor and director Carol Dunne said. "It will make full use of the theater, providing plenty of opportunities for audience involvement."

Many theater critics may consider "Hair" dated and irrelevant, arguing that the '60s has been artistically analyzed ad nauseum -- even Bob Dylan has moved on to "Modern Times." So why is "Hair" the first musical Dartmouth has chosen to do in four years?

Dunne thinks the musical is plenty relevant, and will be received well.

"With the war in Iraq and the current state of controversy in the government, "Hair" still resonates with our young people today," she said. "The themes are timeless despite the specifics of plot and dialogue. It still boils down to the question of 'Where do I go and what do I do with my life?'"

"No matter how dated the songs are, it still profoundly affects me -- I can't help but feel a part of it," Dunne said.

The theater-focused corner of the Dartmouth campus wants the student body to be a part of "Hair" as well. The Hopkins Center has decided "to help promote 'Hair' using methods that political activists used in the '60s and '70s, silk-screening limited edition posters and t-shirts -- something this campus hasn't seen in over ten years," said Michael Amico '07, student marketing coordinator at the Hop.

The cast of "Hair" will also be hosting a post-performance discussion immediately following the performance this Friday, Nov. 9, and a panel discussion will be led by Sylvia Spears, associate dean of student life, following the performance on Saturday, Nov. 10. "Hair" promises to open our eyes "wide, wide, wide," showing the audience what a piece of work mankind truly is.

And as to the question on everyone's mind -- will the student actors be baring it all in this production of "Hair"? Alas, the answer is no. Dartmouth is opting for a "more organic expression of sensuality that expresses nudity in a different light than the original," Dunne said. The condensed version: no full frontal nudity. Instead, there will be some suggestive scenes of partial nudity. "Part of the reason why "Hair" had a nude scene to begin with was for shock value; nudity simply isn't quite as shocking as it used to be," Dunne said.

Nudity or not, the spirit propelling "Hair" is simply contagious -- "Hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah, I adore it."