Friday, May 1, 2009

Hair opens tonight

TCR — Janelle Lauer and Leslie Charipar love the 1960s. Even though both are too young to really remember them.

Still, the Theatre Cedar Rapids directing team is making sure their young actors understand exactly what era they’re portraying in Hair, the groundbreaking rock musical about the 1960s hippie movement that opens Friday, May 1 and continues through May 16.

“A lot of the concepts behind what this show was written about were very near and dear to my heart because of my parents’ history, and the way I grew up the first 10 years of my life,” says Lauer of Cedar Rapids, who is music-directing the TCR production. “So when our actors first picked up their scripts, I had an assignment for them: Get a hold of everyone you can who lived through that generation, and find out what it was like to go through that — living with the Vietnam War, worrying about getting drafted, and understanding what that hippie lifestyle was like.”

As some of the cast has discovered, there are more similarities to modern times than one might think. And that’s exactly why Hair continues to endure, more than 40 years after its debut on Broadway in 1968.

In fact, Hair is now back on Broadway in a celebrated revival. Local audiences, however, can catch the show right here when Hair performs at TCR Lindale, 4444 1st Ave. NE.

With book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt McDermot, Hair tells the story of a tribe that struggles against war, the status quo and all of society’s norms. Led by the charismatic Berger (Jim Kropa), they gladly burn their Vietnam draft cards — except for Claude (Tim Arnold), who struggles with whether he should go to war after all.

The show is famous for songs like “Let The Sunshine In,” “Aquarius” and “Easy To Be Hard,” as well as the title song.

“There’s something about Hair and how accurately it recreates the environment of the 1960s, which is thrilling for either the people who lived through it or the people who sort of have a romantic notion of it,” says TCR Artistic Director Leslie Charipar. “Like all good period pieces, it remains relevant throughout time.”

For actor Jim Kropa, who plays Berger, the fact that Hair is a musical is a key part of what makes it feel so authentic.

“To see people singing and dancing is a representation that’s closer to the actual experience, because it’s such an overwhelming thing to imagine yourself living as a hippie,” Kropa says. “Living on the streets, begging for your next meal, trying to stop the war and staying high all the time —in the same way that music touches a chord that is beyond words, what we have in Hair is the music and the dance reaching a level of experience that a play can’t.”

Tim Arnold, who plays Claude, is quick to point out what a thrill the show is, for the performers as well as the audience.

“You create this tribe, and this family, and if you do it right then it’s an incredibly fun show to be a part of,” Arnold says. “I think that’s why it keeps coming back.”

“The message still applies today,” adds Kelsey Madsen, who plays Sheila. “You should love life, and love your neighbor. And we shouldn’t be going over to kill people in wars that don’t make sense.”

For Lauer, it’s those similar experiences of today — a war overseas, a call for change by the younger generation — that make the show still resonate with audiences today.

“I hope people can see that even though it’s a period piece from 1968, that there’s a lot of the same ideals and idealism,” she says. “We can still overcome adversity, and we can bond together to create something wonderful.”

Hair will be performed May 1-16 at TCR Lindale, 4444 1st Ave. NE, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 and $25, with $10 rush tickets available one half hour before each performance. For tickets, call 366-8591 or visit their website. Hair is sponsored by GreatAmerica Leasing Corp.

Hair is intended for adult audiences only.

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