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Theater Reviews : 'Hair' Is Done Up Just Right in Brea--in '60s Style : The Curtis Theatre's production lets the sunshine in on the play's message of love and doesn't neglect the serious undertones.

November 04, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BREA — In the last few years some strange things have been done to the classic (and first) rock musical, "Hair." One revival had a group of grade-school kids being taken to a cave to discover "Hair's" lost "tribe." Another introduced grunge rockers to "bring it up to date."

In a delightful contrast to these misguided efforts, director Gary Krinke's production at the Curtis Theatre gives its audience the show in its original form--as a 1969 valentine to the flower-power generation--with its tone and shape intact.

The show (book by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt McDermot) certainly is worthy of this affectionate and insightful treatment, and its message of understanding and compassion is even more pertinent today than when "Hair" first opened.

The production's flaws are few and very minor. A recorded musical track, directed by Mark Henson, doesn't have the drive and sparkle that live accompaniment would have, and more rehearsal with the tape before opening night might have allowed the singers to avoid some unsure opening notes. There also were some audio pauses that slowed things down.

But outside of that, the young cast seems to have caught the soul of the work. The energy of the ensemble explodes across the stage in every number, and Sharell Martin's costumes look right out of the period.

What there is of a plot concerns tribe member Claude Hooper Bukowski deciding whether to let the powers that be send him to Vietnam. But the show really is about love, in all Webster's various meanings. Krinke's company is into the resulting complications with humor and understanding, and has just as tight a grasp on the very serious overtones that weave throughout the action and the score.

The famous nude scene is nowhere to be found. In 1969 it made a powerful statement that would be meaningless to young people of the '90s; Krinke's staging is just as effective with clothes on.

Most important to any production of "Hair" is the casting of the two leads, indecisive Claude and his mentor, randy, volatile Berger. Rod Burton's Claude works beautifully, his gentle tone a fine contrast to the sudden power of his singing in "I Got Life" and the show's most telling and overpowering song, "Where Do I Go."

*

Matthew John Snyder is kinetic, gregarious and, at moments, puppy-dog lovable Berger is the physical and vocal spark plug of the show--assured, suave and just a little naive around the edges. The duo couldn't be more right for the roles.

Nick Taricco has a good innocent edginess as the baby of the tribe, Woof, and uses it to shade his excellent rendition of "Holy Orgy." Jenni-Lynn McMillin's Sheila, in love with both Claude and Berger, has a sassy patina. Susie Batchelder's pregnant Jeanie is charming, and as Crissy in "Frank Mills." Darri Kristin is a wistful vocal delight. W. Sterling Wright is strong as Hud, but isn't always given enough to do.

* "Hair," Curtis Theatre, Brea Civic and Cultural Center, Brea. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 20. $13-$15. (714) 990-7722. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Rod Burton Claude

Matthew John Snyder: Berger

Jenni-Lynn McMillin: Sheila

Susie Batchelder: Jeanie

Nick Taricco: Woof

Darri Kristin: Crissy

W. Sterling Wright: Hud

A Prism Production of the rock musical by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt McDermot, directed by Gary Krinke. Musical direction: Mark Henson. Technical direction: Kevin Smith. Lighting design: Steve Pliska. Costume design: Sharell Martin. Choreography: Gracie Martinez, John Vaughan, Danny Farrell. Stage manager: Kami Norton.

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