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Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware 'Hair' is the story of its time the spirit of resistance to the Vietnam war and a government that lied about it, of diversity, of hope, sex, love, long hair and drugs on stage at Berkshire Theatre Group.

Review: 'Hair' is a Must See

By Nancy SalziBerkshires columnist
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Kayla Foster leads the cast of 'Hair' at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge.

It didn't have to be this good.

Just hearing one or two songs from the 1968 rock musical "Hair" – like "Let the Sunshine In" or "Good Morning Starshine" – would have been enough to bring tears to our eyes and a longing for a time when the youth of America could and did change our country.

That's what happened when Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, heard a young woman sing the above songs at an American Theatre Wing event not long ago. She told us in a talkback that on the spot she decided to bring a revival of the show in the intimate space of the Unicorn Theatre, where the audience could be a part of the story.

And bring it she did! This production of "Hair" is far more than good. It is astonishing! The unbelievable energy of the 15-member cast not only brings that troubling and exciting time of our history to life on the stage, it reawakens our spirits and our souls. We want to get on the stage to dance and protest with them.

"Hair" is the story of its time – the spirit of resistance to the Vietnam war and a government that lied about it, of diversity, of hope, sex, love, long hair and drugs – represented by one young man who is drafted and is ambivalent both about serving and about defying his draft notice.

We first meet the "tribe" of flower-bearing, sign-carrying, very high young people singing "The Age of Aquarius" led by Dionne (Latoya Edwards). They accept a young man, Claude (Andrew Cekala), into their midst. He takes drugs with them and observes their free "mating" habits. We soon begin to see that reality has seeped into their idealistic world. Jeannie (Livvy Marcus) is pregnant. Berger (Brandon Contreras) is cruel to his girlfriend, Sheila (Kayla Foster), and becomes "Vietnam bait" when he is expelled from high school. Crissy (Katie Birenboim) can't find a potential love she once met in Washington Square Park. Claude has a bad acid trip and hallucinates being shot in Vietnam. Claude's parents (Shayna Blass and Nick Pankuch) represent the seemingly stodgy American society. In spite of everything, the show ends with the young people's optimism, which the audience (at least those who stayed for the talk-back) so badly wanted to feel today.

The cast is uniformly outstanding. The three leads, Brandon Contreras, Andrew Cekala and Kayla Foster, all have a riveting presence and big, strong voices. The standout performance belongs to Contreras, however.

The direction by Daisy Walker and choreography by Lisa Shriver were brilliant. They obviously worked as a close, collaborative team to make the large cast flow so easily around the multi-level stage and through the theatre aisles. The set by Jason Simms, with raw planks of wood on the floor levels and a giant window at the back of the stage, facilitated the constant movement. Patricia M. Nichols excellent lighting design brought the mood of each song to life and tastefully disguised a scene in which many characters shed their clothes.

There are 35 wonderful songs in "Hair" that tell a story or encapsulate a mood. The musical is almost completely sung-through. Gerome Ragni and James Rado wrote the books and lyrics, Galt MacDermot the music. Eric Svejcar played the piano and let a three person orchestra. The show was originally produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre.

There are so many cultural events competing for our time and money in the Berkshires this (and every) summer. But "Hair" needs to be on your must-see list. It is about a spirit alive 50 years ago in the young hippie movement and also today among the young Parkland resistors. It is wonderful entertainment and a deeply emotional experience.

Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado; Music by Galt MacDermot, Directed by Daisy Walker; Music Direction and Piano by Eric Svejcar; Choreography by Lisa Shriver; Scenic Design by Jason Simms; Costume Design by Shane E. Ballard; Lighting design by Patricia M. Nichols; Sound design by Nathan Leigh.
Cast: Katie Birenboim, Ariel Blackwood, Shayna Blass, Chance Brayman, Andrew Cekala, Brandon Contreras, Latoya Edwards, Kayla Foster, Kristopher Saint Louis, Livvy Marcus, Nick Pankuch, Will Porter, Sarah Sun Park, Aiden Wharton, Eric R. Williams.
At The Unicorn Theatre's Larry Vaber Stage on BTG’s Stockbridge Campus, 6 East St., through Aug. 11. Tickets online.

Tags: Berkshire Theatre Group,   local theater,   

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Neal Announces CARES Act Grants for Cultural Organizations

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Norman Rockwell Museum CEO Laurie Norton Moffat, Rep. Richard Neal and Mass Humanities Executive Director Brian Boyles pose beneath a banner with Rockwell's depiction of Rosie the Riveter.

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, visited the Norman Rockwell Museum on Friday to announce $72,500 in grants to benefit cultural institutions throughout Berkshire County.

The funds are part of $75 million in grants distributed by the National Endowment for the Humanities from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

Neal told his audience about the expedited process that got the CARES Act enacted and predicted success for the next round of federal stimulus, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act.
Neal, who is facing his own primary battle on Sept. 1, dismissed the idea that time was running out to reach a compromise on a new stimulus in an election year.
“[The Republicans] were all in on the CARES Act; they were not all in on the HEROES Act,” said Neal, who is the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which drafted both CARES and HEROES. “[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, as you know, described it as a 'wish list.' Well, that's what legislation is. It’s architecture.
“I think that … he has said 'No' every time, only to have the Senate pass these issues unanimously. So when reporters would say to me, 'How are you going to get past [McConnell],' I'd say, 'He always says no to start. Then he says yes to the legislation.' "
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