Hair is a famously controversial musical. Delving into the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s, the show covers antiwar tensions in the U.S., draft dodging, the sexual revolution, and pretty much every drug in the book. Now, this raunchy production has been brought to life in Moyse Hall by a cast and crew from across the Montreal community, including many Concordia students and McGill alumni.
The show follows a group of New York hippies protesting conscription to the Vietnam War. Observations of the free love movement drive the rock musical’s storyline. Nearly plotless, the show tracks the bizarre, complex relationships between characters navigating this cultural moment.
The performance opens with perhaps my favourite number, the famous “Age of Aquarius,” with stunning lead vocals by Ronny (Sarah Rodricks). The audience is then shockingly, unceremoniously transported into the world of Hair by Berger (Julien DaSilva). He traipses around the stage, performs a musical number, and moons the audience at several points, sporting a criminally saggy pair of underwear emblazoned with the phrase “Make Love Not War.” DaSilva’s uninhibited, manic energy drives the show. His counterpart, Claude (Milo Chaveau), represents another side of the hippie movement and imbues the performance with his character’s pensive coolness.
Davis Dewan, U1 Arts, gives a spectacular performance as the starry-eyed political activist Sheila, with several memorable vocal interludes. Riley Wilson plays a hilarious, Phoebe Buffay–esque Jeanie; she is massively pregnant with the child of an unnamed “speed freak,” and deeply enamoured with Claude for the entirety of the production. Sean Ryan portrays a very lively and eccentric Woof, who frequently professes a profound and celestial love for Mick Jagger.
Other standout performances include Éléonore Crépin and Duncan Bain as Claude’s uptight parents. And let’s not forget Noa Irene, who plays Margaret Mead, the tourist whose earnest, playful performance and incredible high notes brought the audience to instant applause.
The show’s costuming is one of its greatest triumphs, with design by Myriam Olivier and Sienna Edwards, both U3 Arts. Each character is barefoot, decked in gorgeous vintage pieces, or decidedly bare-skinned (Berger, with his proclivity for undressing throughout, wears only a leather fringe vest and a pair of jeans). Note the star motif throughout the production that creates a cohesive look for the cast, either cleverly selected from thrift store offerings or patched to match. Olivier is also responsible for a deeply strange, lumpy, alien puppet with lamplike eyes, which appears periodically throughout the show—to the audience’s delight.
Océanie Renaud’s choreography strikingly develops the show’s brilliance. She combines loose, groovy movements, impressive tricks and lifts, some shocking physical comedy, and depraved sexual innuendos, ultimately creating a dynamic visual performance. Her vision comes to life through featured dancers Emanuelle Ranger, Julia Pye, Abbie O’Hara, and Julia Santarella, as well as the entirety of the Hair tribe.
The show’s strongly anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, and entirely unrepressed message seems peculiar for the sometimes-uptight McGill crowd. Director Abi Sanie clearly attempted to adapt the show for a modern audience. She prioritized a diverse cast and removed specific numbers to ensure that all characterizations remained comfortable and appropriate.
But Sanie did not sanitize the script entirely, so several lines have a significant woke-for-the-60s-but-not-anymore feel (i.e. the song about the sixteen-year-old virgin, and another that references races using colours). While this carries a certain distaste, it also correctly represents Hair’s position as a historically progressive, vulgar, unrelenting representation of counterculture—one that has become dated over time. Sanie maintained the musical’s characteristic obscenity, refusing to alter the frequent references to sex and drugs. The message is political, but also silly and fun, delighting in its own whimsy and nonsense.
Altogether, the cast and crew at AUTS have done a fantastic job with a production as entertaining as it is offbeat, complete with wonderful musical and dance interludes.
Hair ran from McGill’s Moyse Hall from Feb. 2-4. Read more about the cast, crew, and orchestra at the AUTS website.