The music was there, and it was marvelous, but the energy and vibrancy that one would expect to see on stage during a production of the classic rock musical "Hair" was lacking. Of course, it really wasn't "Hair," the play that most of us had come to the University of Missouri at Kansas City expecting to see staged by the KC Repertory Theatre. It was a "retrospective."
We were invited outside before the performance for one of those "director's chats" which was actually handled by a couple of production assistants. There they attempted to plant the seeds of what the audience was to expect. Yes, we would hear every song from the original Broadway stage play, but no, we would not be seeing the actual play itself. Instead of a stage loaded with singing, gyrating, young hippies, the performance would be peopled primarily by an older generation, including some of the original Broadway cast members. And instead of doing the play, they would share their personal memories and tidbits about the play as they sang and danced their way through all of those memorable songs from the sixties.
I re-entered the theatre disappointed.
The play was a very strange affair. Almost the entire cast was my age or older - and, bless their hearts - their age showed as they romped and stomped around the stage. For a long while the audience reaction (and my own reaction) was tepid, but ten or fifteen minutes into the performance it all began coming together and the pity party that I had been enjoying drifted into the rafters like pot smoke from a senior citizens' love-in.
My son, Tim (himself a playwright and screenwriter) and grandson Boone, a high school sophomore with bold red locks that would have blended well into milieu of the 1960's, were with me at the performance. I had wanted to introduce both of them to what was easily one of the defining cultural milestones of the sixties, and was disappointed and a bit put out when it became obvious that they were not going to get the opportunity to see that great musical. However, all three of us wound up enjoying the presentation. For me it was a bit of a walk down memory lane interspersed with little supplementals that added to my knowledge of the period. For Tim and Boone it was a history lesson set to music. Boone is still talking about it this morning and asking questions.
(I remember teaching history to high school students. God, how I loved it when then they got caught up in what I was trying to teach and started asking questions!)
The performers on stage last night were teaching - they were doing a superb job of sharing their histories with some very eager, starry-eyed, toe-tapping pupils.
Perhaps the only cast member with a bit of a personal connection to much of the audience was Heather McCrae, Ms. McCrae related that she had replaced Diane Keaton in her role with the original Broadway production during the first year of the play. Later, when the near seventy-year-old McCrae mentioned that she was the daughter of Gordon and Sheila McCrae, she got a nice round of applause from those of us old enough to remember her parents, both television stars from the 1950's and 60's. (Gordon McCrae also starred in the movie versions of Oklahoma! and Carousel.)
One other aspect of the production worthy of note was the visual presentation that ran in the background. There were photos of the war and the protests on the home front, newspaper stories and headlines from the time, and creepy black-and-white images of some of the period's most villainous characters such as LBJ and Nixon.
Hey, hey, LBJ - how many kids did you kill today?
If you are interested in hearing personal insights on the cultural upheaval of the 1960's and enjoying some great music from the period, don't miss this fine retrospective on "Hair" that is currently being staged by the Kansas City Repertory Theatre at the UMKC campus. It is a unique experience, and one that is unlikely to be packaged and presented elsewhere. And it is also a fun encounter with the past, one that not only teaches, but delights as well!
Peace out, flower children - and enjoy your grandkids!