The Tribe of PTC’s Hair
The Tribe of PTC’s Hair
The Provincetown Theatre Company faced significant challenges in staging the Galt MacDermot-Gerome Ragni-James Rado musical Hair, including the facts that (1) there's not one decent theater venue in present-day Provincetown; (2) the local talent pool from which to draw for this non-Equity show was limited; and (3) the book of the musical itself is an embarrassment. So it's a happy surprise that the production is a winner, largely due to the laudable efforts of director Anthony Jackman and co-director/choreographer Bart J. Murell.

Performed in a function room at the Provincetown Inn, with bleacher-like seating set up but no raised playing area, this Hair is hampered by appalling sightlines; I actually had to stand in one of the "aisles" in order to see the show with only a 10% obstructed view rather than a 40% obstructed view. The lighting, also the work of Anthony Jackman, is pretty awful -- but, given the constraints under which Jackman was working, it's a miracle that the audience can see anything at all (as my college drama teacher used to say). All the more reason to praise Jackman and Murell for their ingenuity in moving the energetic, 21-member cast around in interesting ways, doing what they can to ameliorate the sightline situation and succeeding beyond any reasonable expectation.

To this, add spot-on costuming by Carol Sherry and a crack five-piece band led by keyboardist-musical director John Thomas. And, yes, all of the hairstyles sported in this staging of "the American tribal love-rock musical" have an authentic late '60s look; it doesn't appear that many (or any) wigs are being worn, which indicates a refreshing lack of vanity on the part of the male cast members in particular. (I've seen the verisimilitude of many an amateur theater production ruined by anachronistic hairstyles because there was no budget for wigs and one or more of the actors simply refused to be seen on the street in hair that was out of fashion.)

So impressive overall is PTC's Hair that a videotape of the show should be distributed to community theater groups as an example of how to achieve maximum results with a minimum of means. Despite the limited talent pool noted above, Jackman and Murell somehow managed to assemble a solid cast. The real find here is the kid who plays Claude Hooper Bukowski: His name is Adam Berry and he's a musical theater student at the Boston Conservatory. Blessed first of all with youth -- essential for any actor to be credible in this seminal rock musical -- Berry also has a beautiful tenor voice and an open-book stage presence that's wonderfully well suited to the role of Hair's sacrificial lamb. (I was surprised not to find Jesus in Godspell among this towheaded actor's credits in his program bio; he's perfect for the part.) As performed by Berry, "Where Do I Go?" is an emotional highlight of the show, and Claude's final moments are truly moving. Make a note of this guy's name because you'll definitely be hearing from him again.

Berry's performance is the only one in the show that's up to professional standards, but that's not to say that the remaining leads should be written off. Though Anna Henning as Sheila and Aria as Crissy both have pitch problems, their pretty voices and sincere acting carry the day. If Steven Allen Couch's lack of high notes is a huge disappointment in his first big number ("Donna") and if the actor sends out a strong gay vibe as the presumably straight Berger, Couch does possess the self-aware sex appeal that's a major component of the role. This is underlined by the near-constant display of his well-defined, muscular body in various stages of undress -- the type of body that, I'm sure, few bona-fide hippies ever boasted.

Speaking of nudity: You may perhaps have heard that PTC's Hair had some legal difficulties on that front. Though Provincetown is home to several drag shows that traffic in the most vile sexual humor conceivable, the place has a problem with on-stage nudity even in a non-sexual context, and this odd hangup threatened Hair just as it had threatened a 2001 production of Naked Boys Singing. (Maybe the phrase "Banned in Boston" should be changed to "Banned in P-Town?") Happily, the issue was resolved before Hair opened, and PTC was allowed to present the show with its nude scene intact at the end of Act I; in a pre-performance speech, the theater's president made a point of thanking the Boston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for their efforts on the production's behalf.

Speaking of freedom of expression: It should be noted that the "Colored Spade" number has been cut from the show, presumably at the discretion of the director and/or producers. The song's lyrics are a laundry list of pejorative terms that have been applied to African Americans, from "nigger" to "jungle bunny." These words can shock an audience even when sung by the black character Hud, as intended. Given that there is no Hud in PTC's Hair, "Colored Spade" was ever so wisely dropped. (No great loss; it's one of the weakest numbers in the score.)

Speaking of the score: The Ragni-Rado lyrics are a wildly mixed bag, ranging from profound ("Easy to be Hard," "3-5-0-0," "Where Do I Go?"), poetic ("Aquarius"), and genuinely funny ("Frank Mills," "Sodomy") on the positive end of the spectrum to pretentious ("Flesh Failures"), inscrutable ("Manchester, England"), and simple-minded ("Ain't Got No") on the negative end. It's hard to believe that the guys who came up with the lovely quatrain "When the moon is in the seventh house / And Jupiter aligns with Mars / Then peace will guide the planets / And love will steer the stars" are the same ones who considered the precious phrase "Timothy Leary, dearie" so witty that they used it twice in the show -- in two different songs.

Of course, Hair continues to be revived not for its atrocious book (Lord knows!) or its inconsistent lyrics but for the endlessly beguiling melodies, harmonies, and rhythms of Galt MacDermot. In a recent epiphany, I announced to a friend that MacDermot is one of the most unfortunate figures in the history of the American musical theater in that he never found a collaborator who could craft lyrics worthy of his brilliant music. It's shocking to realize that the lyrics of Hair, flawed as many of them are, are still the best you'll find in any MacDermot show with the possible exception of Two Gentlemen of Verona. (Have you listened to Dude or The Human Comedy lately? Yeesh!)

In partnership with the Provincetown Repertory Theatre (an Equity company), PTC is constructing a new theater on Bradford Street -- in a building that used to be an auto repair shop. Considering the excellent job PTC has done with Hair, a show that has tripped up many an intrepid troupe, there's every reason to believe that the company will thrive in its unlikely new home.