A discordant election, a Republican President, tension with North Korea, environmental issues reaching a catastrophic level, women’s rights and reproductive freedom challenged, racial conflicts, LGBT bias, strong anti-immigration sentiment, political turmoil in Europe, Russian threats, and horrifying images from around the world.
2017? No – 1968! Frequently referred to as a turning point in American History the year was riddled with upheaval. Young people were moving out of the black and white film reel of the Eisenhower era into the tie dyed colors of the sixties, freeing themselves from the old order in dramatic ways with music, drugs, sex, and hair styles.
Literally crawling onto the stage at the Biltmore, HAIR, the first main stream rock musical to find a Broadway home premiered on April 29, 1968. To quote Clive Barnes, theater critic for the New York Times, “It’s fresh and frank.”
HAIR was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot. Using a combination of their own friendship, people they met in the streets and their imaginations, Rado and Ragni wrote a musical that reflected what was going on at the time – blurring of sexual boundaries, use of illegal drugs, disregard for the American flag, and profanity. Considered controversial at the time, James Rado said, “It was very important historically, and if we hadn’t written it, there’d not be any examples. You could read about it and see film clips, but you’d never experience it. We thought, “This is happening in the streets, and we wanted to bring it to the stage.”
It’s no surprise that The Sherman Playhouse, who keeps raising the bar of excellence season after season, will bring the tribal, rock musical HAIR to their stage coinciding with the play’s fiftieth anniversary. Directed by Francis A. Daley (whose exceptional talent was boldly evident in his direction of The Rocky Horror Show, breaking attendance records in 2015) this is certain to be an innovative, electric, larger than life performance.
In speaking with Mr. Daley recently he shared his views on the cast and his excitement in directing HAIR.
“I was astonished that we were able to obtain the rights to HAIR with it being the fiftieth anniversary but I’m ecstatic that we did. We have the same production team that we had for The Rocky Horror Show and again Morgan Kelsey is the Musical Director and the band is kick-ass! Music is so important to this show and we’re going to do some clever things incorporating the band on stage.”
Before it’s Broadway opening, HAIR was performed at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in Greenwich Village, sans the nude scene ending Act I. Mr. Daley desires to capture that essence of the show. “What I’m trying to accomplish with this is to go back to the Off Broadway spirit of it. We’re trying to open it up; we’re not hiding the fact that we’re in a theater, that this is a theatrical production. It’s not going to be typical of HAIR productions that have circulated; we’re going back even farther to the way it was performed at The Public.”
HAIR calls for an ethnically diverse cast which can be difficult in the Sherman area. Broadening their horizons, The Sherman Playhouse advertised through Back Stage (a casting call, audition website) with great success. One actor has come in from Joliet, Illinois and another is commuting from Hartford. Mr. Daley is quite pleased two actors, who now reside in Danbury, come from Mexico City where they studied acting and will perform here for the first time in HAIR. “It’s remarkable how good the cast is, they sound terrific in a very short time. It’s like they’ve been singing these songs for five years! They’re completely dedicated, they WANT to be here and that makes it great for me, I want to work with actors who want to be here.”
We’ve been listening to the music from HAIR since it hit the stage and many people don’t realize the most popular songs are from the play – “Let The Sunshine In”, “Easy To Be Hard”, “Aquarius”, and of course, “Hair”.
As the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Reflecting back to the 1960’s many issues of that era, remain with us today. It’s a head shake moment. As Mr. Daley wisely told his cast, “If you’re looking for inspiration to capture the spirit of the late 1960’s portrayed in HAIR; just read the headlines. Nothing has changed. All the issues addressed in the show are still prevalent today – the environment, racism, war, sexuality, all in the headlines every day.”
Francis A. Daley has over thirty years’ experience in the theater and film industry. His expertise in scenic arts led him into the world of television commercials and four seasons as a cameraman for the series Inside the Actor’s Studio. He has been associated with regional theater throughout the area for decades as both an actor and a director and this will be the tenth show under his direction at The Sherman Playhouse.
Mr. Daley possesses insight, creativity and an unbounded enthusiasm for this production of HAIR that is contagious. “We’re counting on the dynamism of youth, the energy of it, getting some of that “in your face” boldness that will transcend the stage. Frankly, I want people up and dancing. It’s going to be a raucous affair, looking and sounding good right from opening night!”
Time to let your freak flag fly! Dig out your tie dyed T-shirt (or make one), ratty jeans, sandals, headband and love beads. Hang loose and cruise on up to The Sherman Playhouse for what’s certain to be the best production of HAIR since…well, since 1968!
Article by Mary Hembree