Nearly forty years after Hair first debuted off-Broadway, three enthusiastic theater professionals are bringing the seminal rock experience it to Salem.
The trio say that after thousands of performances all over the world, the Enlightened Theatrics production, presented at the Historic Grand Theatre through August 16, will bring something completely fresh and new to Salem audiences while honoring the heritage of the iconic American original.
Salem’s Vincenzo Meduri, Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Enlightened Theatrics, directs the show; New York City’s Daniel Gibson is musical director, and Jessica Wockenfuss, also of New York City, choreographs the exuberant celebration of movement. All have worked professionally, and bring that expertise and passion to the Grand.
“What’s special about this production of Hair,” Meduri says, “is that you are always able to find innovative ways of storytelling with it. For one thing, we have the technology now to have psychedelic lights and we also have a larger band. We have a quirky, organic tribe of people here who each bring something unique to the group. We are able to support the free essence of the original show with better sound equipment. We just have more at our disposal to tell the story with now.”
Hair’s first production began off-Broadway in 1967, and its first Broadway run in 1968. The musical tells the story of a “tribe” of young people of the era and their conflicts around issues of love, drugs, race and the draft for the Vietnam War. With songs like “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine,” it contains a lot of memorable music.
But “if we look at the history of Hair on Broadway,” Gibson says, “many of the actors who performed back then were not fully trained singers, and the productions had a lot of improv in them. When you listen to the music recordings from those productions, you can see there are very loose guidelines to follow.”
Enlightened Theatrics, he says, elected to use well-trained singers, who matched the “free style and feeling” of original productions with strong professional voices.
Wockenfuss, in her work on the choreography for the show, says the team “researched the music and movement from that era and aimed to capture the same energy and spirit of those times. It’s super easy to relate to a lot of things happening in our country today. People are still fighting for equal rights across the board. I think that’s a way to get a lot of younger adults in the cast and to help young audiences relate.”
First previews for the Enlightened Theatrics show brought in audience members that ranged in age from 15 to 70-years old. “We got comments from all generations,” Gibson says, “from people who went through the war, Vietnam vets and also hippies who remember those times. People told us those protest sequences really brought them back to that era.”
Wockenfuss loved the unique challenges of Hair. “This is a kind of tricky show for choreography,” she says. “I wanted to have dance elements, but keep the movement loose and free, to keep in that ‘happy vibe.’ It’s important to have movement that is cohesive with the music, but still always allows the actors to move freely with their characters.”
The band of nine musicians is presented on the stage itself. Meduri says he wanted them to be visible, because “the band is definitely part of the experience, part of our ‘tribe.’ It had to be that way, when the music is so entwined with the story.”
Enlightened Theatrics mission includes its support of both local and national talent, which meant the team accepted video audition submissions from all over the country. “For three or four of them,” Meduri says, “this is their first show, and they’re really rising to the occasion. You can’t tell them from the seasoned pros.”
Of the final cast of 21 people, 15 came from out of state; four are from Salem and two from Portland.
The energetic newcomers are joining Wockenfuss, in Salem for the first time herself. “It’s refreshing how open it is here,” she says. “Everyone I’ve met in town is so enthusiastic about this project and I’m excited to be here for the biggest production Enlightened Theatrics has done to date.”
The American tribal love rock musical
Presented by Enlightened Theatrics
Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre
191 High St. NE
Performances through August 16th