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updated: 6/1/2017 2:11 PM

Metropolis' 'Hair' bold, exuberant and faithful to the original

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  • Jonathan Stombres, center, plays newly drafted Claude in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of the 1967 rock musical "Hair."

    Jonathan Stombres, center, plays newly drafted Claude in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of the 1967 rock musical "Hair."
    Courtesy of Ellen Prather

 
 

Where to start when writing about "Hair"? There's plenty to consider: theatrical significance, the show's contribution to 1960s pop music, its reflection of Vietnam-era zeitgeist.

But what those familiar with the 1967 rock musical invariably want to know is whether the cast, known as The Tribe, disrobes during the famous number "Where Do I Go?" that concludes act one.

In Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's exuberant revival, they do. Some undress completely, some undress partially and some do not disrobe at all during the dimly lit protest scene.

The weight of the moment comes from director Lauren Rawitz's canny contextualization: Without clothes these characters -- young, earnest, impulsive, irresponsible and barefoot throughout -- appear vulnerable, powerless, ripe for retaliation.

Even if members of The Tribe occasionally outnumber their opposition, they are no match for it, not when the opposition bears arms and represents the state. Rawitz makes that chilling point in the scene's tense, final moments -- a subtle nod perhaps to recent rallies nationwide on behalf of other tribes. Women. Blacks. Immigrants.

Leon Evans, left, Ninah Snipes, right, and Alex Newkirk, above, are among the zealous young singers performing in a revival of the 1960s rock musical "Hair" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
Leon Evans, left, Ninah Snipes, right, and Alex Newkirk, above, are among the zealous young singers performing in a revival of the 1960s rock musical "Hair" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. - Courtesy of Ellen Brather

Rawitz does her best to make cohesive this flimsily plotted "tribal love-rock musical" by writers/lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot. The characters are sketchily drawn, and no real narrative underscores the show. Essentially, "Hair" is a snapshot of an era, propelled by vignettes depicting the political upheaval, generational conflict, sexuality and drug use that defined 1960s counterculture. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Metropolis' revival is powered by a zealous, fearless cast of strong singers accompanied by music director Kailey Rockwell's great-sounding rock septet.

The action, which unfolds on Adam Liston's steel scaffold set against the backdrop of an American flag, centers on a group of hippies who spend their time experimenting with drugs, having sex and protesting the Vietnam War. Led by the newly drafted Claude (a thoughtfully adrift Jonathan Stombres) and best friend Berger (Alex Levy, whose nicely frenzied performance is both endearing and maddening), the group also includes idealistic college student turned anti-war activist Sheila (Abby Vombrack), who both men seem to love although we never really know why.

Orbiting the threesome is Jeanie (Leah Davis), who's in love with Claude but pregnant with another man's child; waifish Crissy (Brittany Wolf), who pines for a boy she met in the park; and savvy Dionne, played by vocal powerhouse Ninah Snipes. Noah Spiegel-Blum, a fine singer, is terrific as cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead while Leon Evans channels James Brown as the defiant Hud, who effectively counters racial slurs in "Colored Spade."

Pregnant Jeanie (Leah Davis), center, expresses concern about the air in director Lauren Rawitz's revival of "Hair," running through July 1 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
Pregnant Jeanie (Leah Davis), center, expresses concern about the air in director Lauren Rawitz's revival of "Hair," running through July 1 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. - Courtesy of Ellen Prather

The "Black Boys" trio of Spiegel-Blum, Sara Reinecke and Mollyanne Nunn earn kudos. But it's their Supremes-inspired "White Boys" counterparts -- Kenyai O'Neal, Aalon Smith and Mondisa Monde, resplendent in platinum wigs and sparkling gowns -- who nearly steal the show.

As reasoned as her direction is, Rawitz can't entirely rescue the second act's disjointed, overly long hallucination, however commendable her effort.

The final song "The Flesh Failures/Let The Sun Shine In" has always moved me. But Rawitz adds a coda, including striking, sobering projections by Liston that are especially relevant in the wake of Memorial Day.

Perhaps what's most impressive about Metropolis' revival is it demonstrates just how far the Arlington Heights theater has come since a time -- not so long ago -- when middling, modern romance musical revues dominated its stage.

The inclusion of "Hair" reflects the ambition and daring that has characterized Metropolis productions since Joe Keefe took over as artistic director in 2015.

Berger (Alex Levy), center left, and Claude (Jonathan Stombres), center right, lead The Tribe in a rally in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Hair."
Berger (Alex Levy), center left, and Claude (Jonathan Stombres), center right, lead The Tribe in a rally in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Hair." - Courtesy of Ellen Prather

Opening night's near-capacity crowd -- which included more young adults than usual -- suggests audiences have warmed to Keefe's vision. But not everyone. The couple sitting next to me left after three numbers, just as the cast began singing about hashish, cocaine and marijuana.

Maybe they'll come around.

One day.

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