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Let the sunshine in: Asolo goes back indoors with ‘Hair’

Bill DeYoung

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At Asolo Repertory Theatre, from left: Kaleb Wells as Berger, Damon J. Gillespie as Claude and Olivia Kaufmann as Sheila in "Hair." Photos by Cliff Roles.

Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Hair almost got cut. It came that close.

The largest and one of the longest-lived professional theaters in the southeastern United States, the Sarasota company planned the venerable “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” as its first production back indoors, after the lengthy ice age of the pandemic.

(Everyone involved, Asolo pointed out, had been fully vaccinated before production began.)

Just before previews, in mid-November, a member of the company tested positive for the dread Covid-19 (they won’t, understandably, say whether it was cast, crew or administration). Both previews were canceled, as was Opening Night. As was the first Sunday matinee. Then the first week of shows.

Once the all-clear was given, Hair debuted Nov. 30

Critic Jay Handelman, writing in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, called the 90-minute, intermission-free production “colorful and evocative,” and said the ensemble “never seems to stop moving, undulating, and rhythmically writhing to the beat of melodies that once shocked Broadway and still have something of an edge despite their familiarity.”

Familiarity means “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and “Hair,” all of which were drilled into the pop music foundation back in the late 1960s, via interpretive hit cover versions (by the 5th Dimension, Three Dog Night, the long-forgotten Oliver and the long-forgotten Cowsills).

Even the songs that weren’t radio hits are well-known: “My Conviction,” “Manchester England,” “Black Boys/White Boys,” “Donna,” “Where Do I Go?”

With book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and music by Galt MacDermot, Hair transformed musical theater with its frank discussions of the counterculture’s interest in drugs and sexual experimentation, and with young people’s virulent opposition to the Vietnam War.

The hippies of Hair are archetypes, not real people (there wasn’t actually a lot of singing and dancing in New York’s bohemian underground in 1967) but the messages, and the emotions, are as real as ever in 2021.

And the songs are still great.

All details and tickets here.

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