During the whirlwind of the 1960s hippie movement, a show opened on Broadway that ushered in a new era of rock musicals, one that Hooligan Theatre Company has now taken on the task of producing – “Hair.”
The show, with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, opens Friday in Schoenberg Hall.
The production revolves around a group of young people in New York City during the Vietnam War. The ensemble, called “the tribe,” carries the show through a series of montages depicting hippie counterculture’s roots and spread among youth.
“(‘Hair’) provides the opportunity for every member of the cast to shine. … The tribe really is the main character,” said Kelly Lennon, artistic director of Hooligan and a fourth-year theater student.
Fourth-year history student and director Juan Olivares said he wanted to capture the culture and its themes as accurately as possible.
“I’ve definitely geared (the show) towards connecting past and present, because, as a history major, that’s what I like to do,” Olivares said.
Olivares said his passion for historical accuracy rubbed off on members of the cast and crew, with whom he shared videos of protests and music from the era.
“’Hair’ is a musical about a time and place, rather than a plot, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a plot, but it’s more about these people and the time they’re living in,” said Rob Racke, a second-year electrical engineering student who plays Claude, the leader of the tribe.
Despite the musical’s focus on time, Olivares said Hooligan had its shortest rehearsal process yet for this show. The cast and crew only had six weeks to put the show up due to conflicts with venue availability.
“It’s been hectic, but it’s been gratifying,” Olivares said.
Along with the lack of time, the cast has had to deal with sickness. Fourth-year linguistics and psychology student Isabel Navarro, who plays Jeannie, said that all of the leads got sick two weeks before the opening of the show and, in the same week, Racke had to get emergency wisdom teeth removal.
“We had a rehearsal … where maybe one of the leads was actually performing, and everyone else was at home,” Navarro said.
Stage manager and third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student Noopur Anagol said that in spite of the challenges it faced, the ensemble still found ways to connect during rehearsals.
“Now, when (the cast members) sit together, they’re on each other, they’re laughing, they’re hugging, they’re talking to each other and that’s the spirit of the show,” Anagol said.
Throughout the show, Anagol said, audience members will get the chance to be participants in the action, and actors plan to come out into the audience for certain scenes.
“There is no fourth wall in this show. There is so much audience interaction that the audience feels like part of the show,” Anagol said.
Aaron Fish, managing director of Hooligan and a third-year mathematics student, said he thinks the show’s spirit also reflects the spirit of Hooligan as a company, which is coming up on its 10th anniversary. In order to celebrate the anniversary, Fish said, he and Lennon tried to choose shows that embraced the past while looking forward to the future.
“’Hair’ has historical context but also is this kind of weird, fluid show that’s mostly music, and we’ve never done something like that as a company,” Fish said.
Fish said newcomers should not be afraid to make “Hair” their first foray into musical theater.
“I know so many people for whom ‘Hair’ was their first experience in musical theater, either performing in it or even just listening to it or seeing the show,” Fish said. “If we can give that to more people, then that’s always a plus.”