As the popular song goes, “let the sun shine in.”
And, weather permitting, that’s exactly what will happen in Washington Crossing Open Air Theater this weekend, with a presentation of the musical “Hair,” co-produced with the Downtown Performing Arts Center of Lambertville.
Featuring alumni of the center’s youth programs, the age of the entire cast is between 18 and 26 and combines youthfulness with experience. “Our cast has performed with us in other roles in previous years,” said Jordan Brennan, co-artistic director of the Downtown Performing Arts Center and director of this production. The cast has worked together in various capacities before, and this “reunion” production offers them a chance to work together again and bond further. In addition to performing in the production, they help construct the set, make the costumes, and help out with publicity.
Brennan, originally from Doylestown, attended college at Marymount Manhattan College, where he studied dance before working for seven years at the Bucks County Playhouse and dancing in tours on several cruise ships. This is his fourth summer directing at the Open Air Theater.
Brennan’s mother, Ginny, is producer and owner of the Downtown Performing Arts Center. Originally from East Rutherford, she previously served for six years as the artistic director of the children’s theater program for the Bucks County Playhouse. That was after a two-year stint as the theater’s general manager and before founding the Performing Arts Center.
When Brennan returned from touring, he joined the staff at the Performing Arts Center. The organization began managing the Titusville-located Open Air Theater four years ago, with a five-production season produced during the summer months. Recently operations have expanded with amenities such as applications for iPhones and Android devices.
“Hair,” a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, sprang from the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, with several of its songs becoming anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement and taking on national and cross-cultural significance.
The musical also heralded a step forward into a new era of pop culture on the stage; its profanity, depiction of the use of illegal drugs, overt sexuality, anger towards the American flag, and a much-talked-about nude scene that inspired a decade’s worth of musical theater unafraid to push the envelope.
The casting and structure of the show itself also proved influential, featuring a racially integrated ensemble and a finale that invites the audience to join the performers onstage for a “be-in.”
These revolutionary aspects have inspired controversy and resistance in the past; productions have been shut down, picketed, and blocked at theaters around the country, even in recent years. In fact, the original run in London was instrumental in making theater history: a strict law on the books since 1737 prohibited nudity and obscenities of various categories onstage throughout England. Due to cross-cultural demand, a massive public outcry sprung up with “Hair” and other on-the-edge productions at the center, and the law was abolished, once and for all, on September 26, 1968. The West End production of “Hair” opened one day later, and ran for 1,997 performances.
And while Brennan is aware of these sentiments, he’s not concerned: this production is clearly designated as featuring mature content, and the director has an eye on keeping the content true to its sources and accessible.
“We want to be true to the story and make it clear this is for mature audiences,” said Brennan, who also notes that the nudity has been eliminated from this production. “The themes of ‘Hair’ are appropriate for teens and older.”
“Hair” tells the story of the “tribe,” a group of idealistic and energized young people of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and railing against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude (Kyle McClellan), his good friend Berger (Damian Quinn), their roommate Sheila (Lindsay Frasier), and their contemporaries fight to balance their young lives, loves, and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude is caught between resisting the draft as his companions have done, or to choose to serve in Vietnam and risk his principles and his life.
“My favorite moment in the show is the climax at the end of act two, with the loss of Claude — it’s an eerie and wonderful moment,” says Brennan. “Because the style of the show has a bit of the hippie ‘free form’ vibe to it, the choreography really takes on the individual energy of the cast.”
Its relevance, in an America still engaged in overseas conflict, rings true today; of the 2008 Broadway revival, Time’s review remarked, “Today ‘Hair’ seems, if anything, more daring than ever.”
That daring aspect is a big part of why Brennan loves it. “This is a story that still inspires thought and conversation,” says Brennan. “There’s not a huge, structure plot to ‘Hair’ — it’s more of a lifestyle, and really carries that feeling of anti-war, and political anger, and a sense that we all have to live our own lives, and believe in the things we believe in, and see ourselves through.”
“Hair,” Friday through Sunday, August 9 through 11, 7:30 p.m. at the Washington Crossing Open Air Theater, Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, $15. Tickets available immediately prior to performances. Parking at Washington Crossing State Park is $5. For information and directions, visit www.dpacatoat.com.