By Manning Harris
So you didn’t make it to Woodstock, the legendary “Three Days of Peace and Music” 1969 festival; you weren’t born yet, or if you were, you just missed out. I’ve known quite a few young people with an intense fascination about the 60’s–those halcyon days of flower power and Joplin and Hendrix and the “make love, not war” urging that engendered much of the whole era.
But I have some good news for you. The closest you may ever come to an experiential participation of that fabled time is Serenbe Playhouse’s knockout under-the-stars production of “Hair,” The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical performed out in the country in The Wildflower Meadow in Chattahoochee Hills, near Palmetto, through Aug. 18. It may be the most perfectly conceived and executed musical play that I have ever seen; it is moving and thrilling and fun; it is virtually flawless.
Hyperbole? I’m old enough to have seen (as a small child, of course) the original Broadway production (which ran for years) and several more versions, including the luminous 2009 revival on Broadway. The single advantage in poignancy that the original show had was that the Vietnam War was still going on. But as director Brian Clowdus pointed out in “Busking at the Seams,” as long as the struggle for full human rights and the threat of violence is still going on, “Hair” remains more than relevant. And his production in the fields of Georgia has an earthy authenticity that goes straight for the heart.
“Hair” is essentially a celebration of the power and joy of youth and the young at heart. I don’t have space enough here to describe all the good things about this production, so I’ll start with the cast. I thought actor Will Swenson’s 2009 Broadway portrayal of the exuberant, ebullient hippie-in-chief Berger was definitive, but Maxim Gukhman has made the role his own. From the moment he saunters into the playing area chatting, flirting, asking audience members for spare change, then expressing his disdain for clothing or pretense or taking anything too seriously, Berger is the very spirit of the tribe (all “Hair” casts are called tribes).
But Mr. Gukhman must share the glory, for this cast is—flawless, remember? Berger’s best pal Claude (the wonderful Corey James Wright) is charming, childlike, and ultimately very moving, especially as he’s drafted into the army, certain to be shipped to Nam. Kayce Grogan-Wallace’s soaring “Aquarius” gets the evening going. Then we have Liberty Cogen’s Jeanie; Jeremiah Parker Hobbs’s (frighteningly talented and funny) Woof; Kylie Brown’s Sheila (“Easy to be Hard”); Apollo Levine’s Hud; Galen Crawley’s Crissy (“Frank Mills”); Dasie Thames’ Dionne. More tribe members: Mary Hadsell, Brantley Ivey, Ryan Ortega, Kelli Owens, Tyrell Ruffin, and Ryan Stillings.
The plot? Well, “Hair” is really what they used to call a “happening.” A group of young hippies hang out in New York, live, love, laugh, take off their clothes (very briefly—yes “Hair’s” famous nudity is included), smoke grass, and try to avoid the ominous rumblings of Vietnam. “Gimme a head with hair; long beautiful hair!” sings Berger. “I Got Life” sings Claude. Everyone sings very well, backed up by fine musicians led by music director Seth Davis. Gerome Ragni and James Rado wrote the book and lyrics; Galt MacDermot composed the music. Bobby Johnston’s sound design is miraculous.
Special mention for Bubba Carr’s brilliant choreography. Mr. Carr is nationally recognized; his work here is extraordinary, for the movement he creates for these non-dancers is irresistible. In the spirit of full disclosure, the superb director/actor Brian Clowdus and TV star Travis Smith will play Berger and Claude, respectively, August 15-18. Just as getting to Woodstock required commitment, so does getting to Serenbe; but get out your GPS and go. Peace and love and “Let the Sun Shine In.”
For more information, visit serenbeplayhouse.com.