Fifty years ago, a new season known as the Summer of Love emerged. The social phenomenon saw hundreds of thousands of diverse people sporting flowers in their hair and an opposition to the Vietnam War. Together, they staged peaceful protests and formed a hippie counterculture that challenged the status quo.
This is the subject of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” which also emerged in 1967. Since its off-Broadway debut, “Hair” has garnered Grammy and Tony Awards, been made into a movie and enjoyed revival runs around the world. Now, just in time to celebrate the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary, the play is being staged at Mercury Theater Chicago.
“This is a time capsule of a time in our history where the young hippie culture pushed the envelope and boundaries against war, violence, racism and intolerance,” explains the new production’s director, Jeff Award-winner Brenda Didier. “Our country is still dealing with these same issues, and our younger generations hold their own ‘Be-Ins’ to create safe spaces where they are free to express themselves and their thoughts and ideas.”
Such messages are expressed in the book and lyrics penned by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot. In addition to being the first rock musical, “Hair” gave birth to several hits: “Good Morning Starshine” reached #3 on the charts and the “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” rendition performed by The 5th Dimension held the #1 spot for six weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1969 (it later ranked #66 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time list).
To ensure the energy of the score comes alive are the play’s Jeff Award-winning Musical Director Eugene Dizon and Choreographer Christopher Carter. With the help of Stage Manager Kristi J. Martens and Hannah Wichmann, the production melds scenic designs by Jeffry Kmiec and costumes by Robert Kuhn with video projections designed by Peter Guither to create what Didier describes as “a deeply immersive visual and sensory experience.”
Chicagoans Matt Keffer and Liam Quealy lead the cast, which includes Caleb Baze, Chuckie Benson, Aaron Davidson, Candace C. Edwards, Lucy Godinez, Michelle Lauto, Miciah Long, Andrew Lund, Mallory Maedke, Evan Tyrone Martin, Cherise Thomas, Leryn Turlington, Marco Tzunux and Craig Underwood.
“Our cast is incredible, hungry and raw. They care deeply about this material and feel connected to its messages and themes,” says Didier. “I hope the audience experiences the love, joy, and pain of the era when the thoughts and ideals of the hippie movement shaped a generation. Mercury Theater Chicago is such a unique space…and the intimacy provides a special environment in which to absorb the beauty and wonder of ‘Hair.’”
“Hair” performs at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave., through Sept. 24. The play runs 2 hours, 10 minutes and is recommend for audiences 12 years and older. For tickets ($30-$65) and more information, visit www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.
(Photo courtesy of Mercury Theater Chicago)