HAIR by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot, directed by Robert A. Prior, with Matthew Brown, Craig Burnatowski, Karen Burthwright, Andrew Kushnir, Jamie McKnight and Cleopatra Williams. Presented by CanStage and Dancap at Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, March 30) and runs to June 17, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $53-$80, some $20 front-row seats, half-price same-day rush and Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
Get out your love beads, day-glo T-shirts and hash pipes. Hair's about to grow again.
CanStage is reviving the late-60s musical, taking us on a trip back in time for an evening of war protests, fighting the Establishment and getting stoned.
For actor Andrew Kushnir, the play's key issues are still vital.
"In obvious terms, there's the parallel of the Iraq war, with a huge question mark above it," says Kushnir, who plays Woof. "Just as it did with the Vietnam conflict, the American government is sending people to die on a shaky premise.
"Since war is a senseless way of reconciling differences, this show is pertinent in any period of history. But it also tackles other constants we're still dealing with: racism, homophobia, rebellion against a society that straitjackets our thoughts and feelings.
"Those are the issues that the Tribe battles, trying to dissolve the ugliness of the world they live in."
The Tribe is the play's central protagonist group, people who burn draft cards, smoke pot and stand up to parental authority figures.
And get naked. Hair made stage history by offering lots of hirsute coverage from the neck up and, at one point for the entire cast, no clothing from the neck down.
Splashed brightly throughout the Gerome Ragni and James Rado script are Galt MacDermot's songs standards such as Aquarius and Let The Sunshine In.
Rado's been making changes to tighten and clarify the several story lines, notably that of Claude, who wants to resist the war but doesn't have the nerve to burn his draft card.
"In the late 60s, Hair broke so many theatrical taboos that people didn't pay much attention to a meandering narrative," explains Kushnir, whose work ranges from Shaw Festival musicals to Shakespeare.
"Today's audiences look at musicals differently. We latch onto a story more eagerly and expect it to take us along. We don't rely on a big wash of sight and sound."
Like the rest of the young cast, the long-and-curly-locked Kushnir wasn't around during the 60s protests, and has done his research through counterculture books and films like Monterey Pop and Woodstock.
"What's useful to me are accounts of having been in the middle of that era," says the thoughtful performer, who's developing his own script, Captain Princess, about a gay clown who achieves messianic status. "Rather than retrospective analyses, I'd rather read pieces about Janis Joplin or a 14-year-old who has a falling out with his mother over wearing bellbottoms."
For Woof, the show's gay character, Kushnir's been influenced by Hibiscus, "a glitter Jesus" and member of the San Francisco drag troupe the Cockettes.
"In this production, the Catholic guilt side of Woof's been toned down. Now he doesn't wrestle as much with the sexual-orientation demon. He has a crush on Mick Jagger but shrinks from being defined as gay.
"My Woof is playful, resisting a label because he wants to take advantage of having this beautiful family around him to explore. He'd like to sample a little of everything."