Music: Galt MacDermot. Book & Lyrics: Gerome Ragni & James Rado.Directed by: Brenda Didier. At: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: MercuryTheaterChicago.com: $30-$65. Runs through: Sept. 17
Mercury Theater Chicago presents HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, the famous hippie anti-war musical that was groundbreaking on Broadway. A group of young hippies in the village sing songs of love, sex, race, war and rebellion in reaction to the world of 1967. The piece is at once approachable and boundary pushing.
When the musical seems to be a creaky thing of the past, those moments are shattered by characters like Hud, an African-American hippie played with power by Evan Tyrone Martin who steps forward to sing all the racial slurs hurled at him. This moment is still uncomfortable but relevant. In fact, whenever the African-American cast steps forward in the show, you can feel the audience lean forward to hear them. From "White boys" to Abraham Lincoln to singing "What a Piece of work is Man," every moment is memorable and only has the audience wanting more. Kudos to Candace Edwards, Chuckie Benson and Miciah Long.
Dionnethe earth mother of them all who sings "Aquarius"is played with majesty by Cherise Thomas. Matthew Keffer, as lead hippie Berger, gets all the in-your-face sexuality of the role even if he may be a little "long in the tooth" to be just thrown out of high school. Liam Quealy is a real standout as Claude, the sympathetic role of the suburban hippie that has to decide if he's going to Vietnam. Liam has a beautiful singing voice and really captures the heart of the role. Michelle Lauto gets to sing some of the iconic songs "Easy to Be Hard" and "Good Morning Starshine," and does so with great emotion. One of the unexpected standout moments of the show was Leryn Turlington as Crissy singing about the boy that got away 'Frank Mills'. Lucy Godinez is sweet as Jeanie the pregnant girl in love with Claude. Aaron Davidson and Craig Underwood get lots of laughs with their comic relief roles which I won't ruin for those who haven't seen the show.
This production does have that infamous moment of nudity but it is handled with such great artistry that it becomes an even more moving and magical statement. The staging ( by Brenda Didier ) and lighting ( by Nick Belly ) were appropriate to highlight the different emotions of the show. Some musicals excel in a smaller theater or space, and HAIR is one of them. The Mercury Theater production proves that this piece may be a little dated but still entirely relevant at the same time.