Theater review: 'Hair'

JAY GABLER | Updated 6/28/2013

7th House attempts more modern “Hair.”

The ensemble cast of 7th House Theater Collective in “Hair.”
Provided photo

As time-capsule musicals go, “Hair” is unusual. Unlike “Grease” or “Rock of Ages,” “Hair” was actually created during the era it depicts. Both celebrating and gently satirizing late-’60s youth culture, “Hair” helped to define the hippie movement in popular imagination.

The musical debuted on Broadway in 1968 and is still frequently produced today, typically given a throwback treatment that turns the flower power up to 11. By contrast, the new production by 7th House Theater Collective at 514 Studio — a garage-like space in Minneapolis’ North Loop — aims to make “Hair” relevant for contemporary audiences.

“Hair” features the most famous nude scene in the history of musical theater, but Michael Brindisi — credited as co-director with his “Tribe” of actors — strips the show of more than just its bell bottoms. Presented in the round with the accompaniment of a live (and barefoot) rock band, this “Hair” brings the audience right into the Be-In. Yes, some of the seating is on floor cushions. Yes, you may be pulled up to dance, or have a cast member lounge in your lap. No, you will not be invited to strip — though if you decided to get in the spirit and drop trou, it seems unlikely anyone would try to stop you.

With minimal sets (a few rolling ladders, a barrel for draft-card-burning, and that’s about it), the production rests squarely on the shoulders of its capable and extremely enthusiastic young cast. The musical numbers in “Hair” come almost nonstop, each given distinct and tightly executed choreography by Emily King. Often forming concentric circles and spinning their limbs in waves, this is a “Hair” cast Busby Berkeley could love.

Removing the show’s nostalgic trappings reveals both the underlying strengths and shortcomings of the source material. “Hair” is light on plot, and what there is suggests that the writers were as stoned as the characters. Relationships come out of nowhere, get entire songs, then disappear. One song shambles into another without much sense of logic or dramatic progression. That’s all part of the trippy fun, but let’s be honest: “My Fair Lady” it ain’t.

Ultimately, in trying to find the universal relevance of “Hair,” this production proves the opposite: “Hair” isn’t about the human condition, it’s about America in 1968. The less tightly this material is moored to that context, the harder it is to get a handle on scenes like the spoof pageant of American history, with ethnic stereotypes flying fast and furious.

This “Hair” is at its best when it embraces the “Glee”-like spirit of the proceedings, with the big-voiced ensemble merrily nailing pop-culture chestnuts like “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine” and the title song. In bringing the spirit of the ’60s up close and personal, this production serves as a poignant reminder of just what a long, strange trip it’s been since the Summer of Love.

Hair

Who: 7th House Theater Collective.

When: 8 p.m. Thu-Mon.

Where: 514 Studio, 514 3rd Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: Free; reserve at www.brownpapertickets.com.