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'Hair,' the Tony Award-winning revival of the original bohemian rhapsody, comes to Salt Lake City

Published January 18, 2013 9:43 am

Musical theater • "Hair" — the counterculture touchstone — lets the sun shine in once again.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Brian Crawford Scott's earliest political memory consists of President Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996. It goes without saying, then, that the 26-year-old actor ploughed into his fair share of historical research after he won the role of Berger for the touring production of the Broadway revival of 'Hair.'

"It was part of the rehearsal process almost before we started rehearsals," Scott said, speaking from Santa Barbara, Calif., the first city on this national tour, the energy of his voice bolting straight from the phone. "Hair" plays three shows at Kingsbury Hall on Jan. 19 and 20.

"It's a very physical show," Scott continued. "We're learning the hard way that we've got to stay in shape if we're going to make it through the rest of the tour strong and healthy."

With its hippie milieu of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll, matched with copious references to racial strife and the Vietnam War, few other musicals reveal the past as a foreign country quite like "Hair."

James Rado and Gerome Ragni's 1967 musical proved so controversial during its 1970s spate of national tours that it provoked church-group protests, bomb threats and, for its Boston production, a legal challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The musical's fans weren't paying too much attention to the controversy. They were too busy grooving to its bold, almost ridiculously glorious soundtrack, and its alluring message of love and peace amid turbulent national change. "What is so likable about 'Hair'?' asked then-New York Times critic Clive Barnes. "I think it is simply that it is so likable."

The revival production, which first opened in 2007 at Central Park's Delacorte Theater in New York City, wowed theater critics in a similar manner. There's something timeless about the musical's heralded "Age of Aquarius." (Local audiences might remember Utah actor Will Swenson, of 2002's "The Singles Ward" and 2004's "Sons of Provo," who played Berger in the original New York revival.)

The surest way to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of an aging hippie is through Galt MacDermot, the composer responsible for the surging strains of "Aquarius" and "The Flesh Failures," better known as "Let the Sunshine In."

The musical got a massive shot in the arm with Milos Forman's 1979 film version, but the adaptation wasn't popular with either Rado or Ragni, who felt the counterculture passion of the musical's characters was diluted into mere eccentrics. For this touring revival, Scott said Rado sat in on early rehearsals to advise him and the rest of the cast toward the musical's most authentic reading.

Scott said he discovered early on that part of the musical's enduring appeal transcends its status as an icon of the counterculture. Rado and Ragni drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Shakespeare, evidenced in the song "What a Piece of Work Is Man," and George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," with its attention to racial themes.

"The time period adds a wonderful texture in terms of clothes and style," Scott said. "But at the end of the day, it's about the struggle of these characters attempting to find out where they fit during a conflicted era of history."

As Berger and his "tribe" of free spirits and student political activists romance one another, confront authority and launch into revelry, their string of song anthems draws a portrait of change and argument.

Contemporary audiences might feel we're in another era of change, said Dan Sher, executive producer of Big League Productions, the company bringing "Hair" to Salt Lake City with local Broadway presenter MagicSpace.

"Sometimes they're singing about sex, sometimes they're signing about drugs, sometimes they're singing about rock 'n' roll. But in almost every song, they're singing about what it means to be an American," Sher said.

bfulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Artsalt

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'Hair' makes the cut

The national tour of this revival production of the 1967 musical plays at Kingsbury Hall.

When • Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 20, 1 p.m.

Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $37-$64.50; at 801-581-7100 or kingsburyhall.utah.edu.

Info • Visit http://www.HairOnTour.com for more information about this production.