Review: HAIR’s anti-war message still hits home 50 years later at Montreal’s MainLine

In The Wings Promotions remounts its hit 2016 musical production

The cast of ‘HAIR’ at the MainLine Theatre (Photo: Diane Dupuis)

There’s a be-in taking place at Montreal’s MainLine Theatre this summer.

In The Wing Promotions’ sold-out 2016 production of ‘HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical’ is back for an encore presentation in celebration of the groundbreaking original show’s 50th anniversary – and it’s better than ever.

A product of the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, ‘HAIR’ depicts the emotional and philanthropic journey of a cabal of freewheeling and politically active hippies trying to find their way through the confusion of the era, exploring a generation’s search for purpose, meaning, and understanding in a time of civil disobedience and alienation. Denizens of the streets of New York City, the outcasts rebel against establishment, government, and the oppressive system conscribing young men into the U.S. armed services during the Vietnam War. Sharing their bodies and souls, they defy the status quo, the bourgeois lifestyle, and conservative parents and society, transporting audiences through a time warp to an age of revolt and rejoice in speed (in multiple senses of the word).

Rosie Callaghan as Jeanie, Noelle Hannibal as Sheila, and Meghan Blakeburn in a poignant rendition of power ballad “Easy to Be Hard” (Photo: Diane Dupuis)

The counterculture classic was praised for revolutionizing musical theatre in the ’60s by giving rise to the “rock musical” (as In The Wings Promotions has been credited for upholding the genre in Montreal). Consisting of an amalgam of iconic songs by Galt MacDermot and book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the controversial composition is presented as a series of vignettes that loosely follow the story of the young and naive Claude Hooper Bukowski’s induction into the army. Issues of race and discrimination, environmentalism and pacifism, religion and astrology, and sex and drugs waft through the libretto, crescendoing into its dark final cry-for-help anthem “Let The Sunshine In” – often mistaken for a lightened, happy tune, but here performed in its proper context.

Indeed, this ‘HAIR’ has got style and sagacity. It’s fresh but unforced, remaining exactly what it is – a period piece. Director-choreographer Nadia Verrucci lays the musical bare as a look back in history to the times when a generation of change was still possible – no hippie clichés or flowery stage embellishments in addendum (Karen Pearce’s and Elizabeth Proulx’s kaleidoscopic costumes, however, bring picturesque vivacity to an otherwise visually barren spectacle). The rustic intimacy of the MainLine serves the minimalist but fully staged fourth-wall-breaking production – In the Wings’ most ambitious to date –, which feels inviting to seated onlookers without being uncomfortably invasive. As tempting as it can be for directors and designers to succumb to the urge to conceptualize the show, this time capsule stays rooted in its native era, treating boomers to an evening of acute nostalgia and allowing millennials to sample a hypnotic rush of rhythms from the youth of Vietnam. Music and movement truly take centre stage here, introducing theatregoers to a full-frontal glimpse of the burgeoning ‘60s-counterculture aesthetic.

The cast of ‘HAIR’ at the MainLine Theatre (Photo: Diane Dupuis)

HAIR’ is, quite frankly, more about mood and attitude than plot. Shorn of much of its narrative strands, the songs have only just about enough book woven through them to hold together on stage. Musical Director Ian Baird leads the live band of 4, who succeed in drawing out the sumptuous colour of MacDermot’s music sung with verve and harmony by a cast of 16. Without the encumbrance of weighty dialogue, the piece is free to flow from one incendiary scene to the next, and this organic revival gets the Tribe vibe just right.

Unequivocally, this act is at its strongest in numbers, with many of its standout performances emanating from the eclectic ensemble. The charming company of diverse characters, readily used in interchanging forms, is visibly more unified in this revved up remount due to tightened choreography. Technical sound and lighting elements have also discernibly been improved upon. The returning production, in fact, presents itself this time around as more focused as a whole – making it a hallucinatory trip worth taking even for those who were able to secure a hot ticket last season.

Promoting peace, equality, freedom, and love, “HAIR’ offers meaningful commentary on the generational divide of the sixties while lending vitality and insights that still remain urgently relevant today. Enjoy the psychedelic spectacle on display at the MainLine until September 9th, 2017.

Also read here our recent interview with Noelle Hannibal, founder of In The Wings Promotions who plays Sheila in the production.

In The Wings Promotions presents

HAIR – The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

50th Anniversary Production

August 30th to September 9th, 2017
MainLine Theatre (3997 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal)

Book & Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed and Choreographed by Nadia Verrucci
Musical Direction by Ian Baird

Claude – Mathieu Samson
Berger – Franco DeCrescentis
Sheila – Noelle Hannibal
Hud – Anton May
Woof – Bryan Libero
Jeanie – Rosie Callaghan
Dionne – Laurie-Anne Jean-Baptiste
Crissy – Lindsay Milner
Tribe: Meghan Blakeburn, Marc Ducusin, Charbel Hachem, Justin Johnson, Nicolas Mancuso, Jessica Nicholas, Christine Rodriguez, Shawn Thicke

General admission: $24 | Students/artists/QDF/seniors: $18
MainLine box office: 514-849-3378
Buy tickets online

WARNING: Theatrical smoke and strobe lights are used in this production. The production also contains nudity and strong language. 18+

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1 Comment on Review: HAIR’s anti-war message still hits home 50 years later at Montreal’s MainLine

  1. This was a very accurate and insightful review. This musical has never been my favorite due to its barely-there storyline, but this production emphasized what’s really good about it–the mood and the music. Kudos to In the Wings for an enjoyable night of theatre!

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