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Laurel Mill Playhouse's 'Hair' is a '60s trip

By Patti Restivo, prestivo@comcast.com

6:00 AM EDT, May 22, 2013

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As the planets align over the little theater on Main Street, hippies of all ages can celebrate Laurel Mill Playhouse's trippy rendition of "Hair," where peace and love (and director Michael V. Hartsfield) steer the stars.

With book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and music by Galt MacDermot, the 1968 Broadway run of "Hair" introduced 40-plus songs in its original score. A few became icons of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and more than three million copies of the original Broadway cast recording sold by the end of the 1969.

More recently, the popular 2009 Broadway revival won a Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Musical Revival.

Because the cast is too young to have experienced the unique counterculture of the sixties, staging a show this daring could prove risky for a family-oriented community theater. The show contains prolific profanity, mild sexual groping and illegal drug use. But Hartsfield and choreographer Brook Urquhart, both Laurel residents, along with musical director Alice Laurissa, handle the historical script with care.

As the audience warms up to songs from the Woodstock Festival in the preshow music, Hartsfield's graffiti-decorated set visually shouts authentic slogans like "Make Love Not War" and "Freedom!"

Tucked upstage behind the painted outline of a neon sun, the Love Pit houses a live band. Aptly led by Laurissa on keyboards, the pit band — Elaine Beckman, piano; Will Poxon, drums; Chris Mercado, guitar; Tom Tomlinson, bass; Megan Zonek, trombone; and Kiarra Johnson, clarinet — defines the show as a pulsating rock musical.

Rife with references to Shakespeare, religion and astrology, "Hair" enacts the story of a longhaired "tribe" of political activists living in New York City during the late sixties. The lights come up on Laurel residents Charles Freeman as their charismatic leader, Claude; and Paul D. Grodt as the "psychedelic teddy bear" Berger. Sheila, played by Teresa Pepito, lives with the two men.

Enter the rest of the talented cast, "a whole gaggle of hippies" played by Laurel residents Terrence Bennett, La'Angel Hall, Madeleine Jones, Melanie Pino-Elliott, Julie Rogers, Jill Schneider and Brook Urquhart; and Kat McKerrow, Felicia Akunwafor, David Hale, Jose Pineda, Avia Fields, Sara Ritmiller, Cheyenne Johnson, Marquis Evans, Fatimah Steffanoff, Joanna Cross, Andrea Tanner, Kristin Hessenauer, and Jenifer Hollett.

Fields, whose vocals always shine, leads the Tribe's opening performance of "Aquarius." Berger strips from his trousers to a loincloth and begins searching for his "Donna." And the trip begins.

A few of the show's nonstop highlights, including the very groovy period costumes designed by McKerrow and the cast, warrant mention.

In Act 1, Claude pretends to burn his draft card. Hale steals the scene as Margaret Mead, the tourist lady who's really a man in drag. McKerrow as Jeannie reveals that she's "…hung up on Claude, Sheila's hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere."

Rogers as Crissy delivers a sweet performance of "Frank Mills." And at the end of Act 1, Hartsfield's beautifully composed nude scene with kaleidoscope-like lighting plays as pure art.

In Act 2, Cross, Jones, Hollett, Urquhart, Bennett and Evans are delightful in "Black Boys" ("black boys are delicious…"). Not to be outdone, Akunwafor, Fields, Johnson, Freeman, Hale and Grodt answer with a rousing "White Boys" ("white boys are so pretty…").

Woof says he's hung up on Mick Jagger and Claude gives him a poster. The whole tribe gets high, including the Pope, and Claude hallucinates a series of symbolic events that lead to an unexpected ending and reprise of "Let the Sunshine In." There is no fourth wall, and the audience is invited onstage for a "Be-In" at the show's finale.

A few of the vocals were slightly off on opening night, and Freeman needs to really belt out his lyrics. But this detracted little from the Playhouse's exciting ensemble performance, or from the tribute that "Hair" pays to the beauty of untamed youth.

No performances are scheduled Memorial Day weekend. "Hair" continues June 3 through June 9, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays, June 1 and 8, and Sundays, June 2 and 9 at 2 p.m., at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. The show contains adult content and brief nudity with no photography permitted. General admission is $18. Students 18 and under and seniors 65 and over pay $15. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2.