By Kevin Zimmerman
It takes a lot for a time-specific show to remain relevant and fresh nearly 50 years after its first bow on Broadway.
But the 1968 classic counterculture music “Hair,” set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the turbulent social changes of that era, continues to spark a message of peace, love and understanding that speaks to today’s audiences.
The current version of “Hair” at the Secret Theatre, under the solid direction of Richard Mazda, delivers those messages with a high-energy, colorful and tuneful production.
Employing a huge cast of two dozens singers and dancers, the show opens with Laurisa Lesure’s outstanding version of “Aquarius” that fills the small stage with the entire cast dressed in tie-dyed shirts, bell bottoms and a lot of fringe.
The Tribe, as the young crowd has dubbed itself, spends its days protesting the war, taking drugs, enjoying guilt-free sex and hassling the older generation, who just don’t understand what it is to be young today.
As the story unfolds — although it is less a straight narrative than a series of vignettes to bridge the musical numbers — one of the Tribe’s leaders, Claude, is struggling with mixed emotions over his newly arrived draft notice.
Despite his big talk of “hell, no, we won’t go,” now that Uncle Sam has come looking for him, Claude realizes he has a deep-seated sense of duty pushing him toward the induction center. He is unable or maybe unwilling to join his friends in a draft card burning ritual.
These feelings frighten him somewhat as they are in stark contrast to the peacenik he thought himself to be.
Torrey Wigfield turns in a mesmerizing performance as Claude.
He beautifully portrays Claude as a bohemian bon vivant, whose life revolves around sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
Claude is self-assured. He is sexy. He is someone others would follow. Then as the story unfolds, Claude becomes confused and frightened.
Wigfield also possesses a terrific singing voice that shines in “Manchester, England” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)” at the finale.
Other standouts include Chloe Kostman as the very pregnant — but still partaking of weed — Jeannie, who offers a nice riff on the sorry state of the environment in “Air.”
Lesure teams up with Ruby Hurlock and Charlene Deen for a stylish and soulful rendition of “White Boys.”
Wearing a wig that makes him more afro than person, Noel B. Austin’s owns the scene where, as Tribe member Hud, he sings “I’m Black/Colored Spade,” which is comprised of a listing of the most offensive, racial slurs hurled at African-Americans. Greg Ramsey brings much humor to his part as Woof, the reportedly straight Tribe member, who has it bad for Mick Jagger. Actor Morgan Bartholick steals his scene as tourist Margaret Mead — in a frumpy dress and sensible pumps — who questions the group about their lack of visits to the barbershop.
The show is called “Hair” folks and that, too, becomes a rousing anthem to youth and self-realization.
Cheers also to Mazda’s direction.
He smartly opts to present the show not as a comment on a earlier period — a sociological study as it were — but as something that speaks to a society dealing with war, racism and the fight for LGBT rights.
“Hair” remains a show of its time — no matter when that might be.
If you Go
When: Through Sunday, Feb. 1
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City
Contact: (718) 392-0722
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4541.