Review: HAIR at Mercury Theater Chicago

By Tonika Todorova

The Age of Aquarius invites us to evolve our consciousness through altruism and love for our fellow humans, to use technological advances to achieve self-fulfillment and well being. The term was popularized in 1967 in the American Tribal Love-Rock musical HAIR, currently enjoying a powerful and refreshing revival at the Mercury Theater. Having seen the iconic show over a dozen times, I found this particular presentation turning in wildly moving performances covered in groovy-gassy-goosy bumpies. Instead of treating the material as a nostalgic time capsule, this earnest cast taps into the urgency of empathy and shared human experience with succinct poignance.

There are many elements that contribute to hitting the bullseye under Brenda Didier’s direction. The musical arrangement by Eugene Dizon explores and takes advantage of the superhuman voices of the ensemble to create a blend of intimate vibrating harmonies and face-melting belts, including often omitted numbers like “Dead End,” a most effective tune that will give you shivers and empower you at the same time. Throw in incredibly dynamic choreography by Christopher Carter and this nearly two-hour production flies by quicker than you can realize you’re still lingering around wanting more.

But one of the most powerful moments can be attributed to the highly controversial nudity scene done here with taste, innovation and strength, avoiding the usual discomfort and vulnerability exhibited by most other productions and ensembles. This is largely due to the genius of The Living Canvas’ Peter Gunther’s projection design and an explosive harmonious “freedom” sung at the end of “Where Do I Go.” Ultimately, the acting high stakes can be attributed to the emotional maturity of the cast. HAIR calls for an energetic, youthful, raw ensemble, but often the price for casting young is the lack of depth in the performances. This production does not suffer that fate, however. The ensemble imbues all the youthful energy while tapping into the understanding of the human experience only those old enough to have known suffering can understand.

Liam Quealy delivers an exceptionally likable Claude. Hud is represented by on-point physical mover Evan Tyrone Martin. Michelle Lauto gives us a strength-bursting Sheila tugging on our heartstrings. Micah Long and Candice C. Edwards have vocal chords of unnatural proportions. Lucy Godinez brings Jeanie into the frontline with her singing and acting chops and Craig Underwood creates the best Margaret Meade I have ever seen. There is no weak link in the entire large cast. And everyone, every tribe member, every role, from big to small, sings with intention and specificity, spreading the gospel of love, peace and understanding.

When someone once asked Ramana Maharishi how we should treat others, his response was simple and profound: “There are no others.” Thank you, Mercury and cast and crew of HAIR for the important reminder.

About author

Tonika Todorova

Tonika Todorova is an adventure architect and a passionate lover of the shared human experience.

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