SALT LAKE CITY — The reason live theater is such an enduring and beloved art form is that there is something deeply resonant about shared experience. So powerful is the experience being shared at Kingsbury Hall this winter that it is indeed a shame that the show will only play two nights.
Written during one of the most volatile times in American history, Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot), depicts themes of racial and sexual equality, the drug movement, sexual revolution, environmental destruction, nonviolence, and the anti-Vietnam war peace movement. It has sparked comment and controversy over the years, and is celebrated as a piece of work whose themes are still relevant today. It was Broadway’s first concept musical, a form that has influenced the way we do theater for decades. The national tour, which played at Kingsbury Hall, is in every way a flawless presentation of the work. If the message of Hair is unity and brotherly love, then that is exactly what is delivered by this group of talented individuals, led by the direction of Diane Paulus.
Paulus seemed a capable director in leading the “Tribe” to create a unifying vision. I enjoyed her choices of having actors run up and down the aisles, at times dancing with the audience members or throwing flowers in the air. There was a feeling of peace, joy, and love that permeated through the entire show, something that can happen when a group of actors really respect and admire their leader.
One of my favorite aspects of the show was the lighting design, done by Joel E. Silver. From the moment the show opens, the use of light and color are so expressive that the lighting is almost its own character. A good lighting design is like music: it can inform an audience on what to feel at any given time, and that is precisely what Silver’s lights did. At times I felt I was immersed in a different world, bathed in a veritable rainbow. At other times I felt I was at a rock concert, nearly blinded (but in a good way) by the varied and well-executed display.
Opening the show was the now famous song “Aquarius,” sung by Dionne (Danyel Fulton) and the Tribe. Though this was a show filled with phenomenal singers, Fulton was easily my favorite. The character Dionne acts as a sort of oracle of the show, and Fulton’s beautifully ethereal voice played with my emotions, even bringing me to tears when she sang, “Let the Sun Shine In.” It truly is a treat to be able to see someone so gifted performing such amazing pieces of music.
Playing one of the central characters, Berger, was Brian Crawford Scott. Scott was the perfect fit for the extroverted, charismatic Berger, and the perfect foil for Noah Plomgren, who played the more pensive and lyrical Claude. The two men, as their characters, were both very easy to fall in love with, and it made their stories, especially Claude’s, that much more affecting. In the scenes toward the end when Plomgren’s character was fated to go to war and sacrifice his life for his country, Plomgren’s sensitive performance of “What a Piece of Work is Man” and the reprisal of “Manchester, England” was very moving. Scott was a natural leader on stage, and, much like his character Berger, very charismatic. He had me laughing from the moment he took off his trousers to reveal a loincloth, kneeled down with his back to the audience, and fearlessly played bongos on his backside.
In one of the most notorious scenes, the actors removed their clothing, all of them becoming nude onstage. As I had never seen the play, only the movie, I had always been curious about whether or not it was “such a big deal.” I, personally, quite appreciated the scene, and found it both beautiful and moving. As the saying goes, acting is being “private in public,” and I admire these actors for being so brave to express something so pure.
As the play ended, the actors did a reprisal of “Let the Sun Shine In.” As they ran down the aisles, dancing jubilantly, the actors invited the audience members to do likewise, pulling many of them onto the stage. Soon a large chunk of the audience was up there, dancing away, flowers in their hair. Those left in their seats waved their arms, singing along. It was quite a lovely moment, and one I am not likely to forget.