Steven Wright has a joke about coming home one night and discovering that everything he owned had been replaced with exact replicas.
That’s the kind of feeling last night’s opening of Hair at PlayhouseSquare exuded: everything seemed in place but something seemed amiss. That something was the go-for-broke, spontaneous urgency an irreverent show like this needs to fire up an audience and leave them wilted but happy at the end.
Sure, all the dance moves and the excursions into the audience were there, along with the gloriously messy tribal interactions of these hippies from another place and time. But many of the moves were rounded off, the edges of the songs often dulled, and more than a few dramatic beats muffled in the bustle of large cast dynamics.
The happy news is that, since all the elements are in place from director Diane Paulus and choreographer Karole Armitage, the show can snap back to its senses with the next performance. But someone will have to convince the cast that they need to shake off the touring show, road warrior funk and get back to creating, rather than trying to re-create, indelible moments on stage.
When that happens, this production will have a lot to offer. Steel Burkhardt, a Baldwin Wallace College grad, is refreshingly up front physically as Berger—accosting and bumping against tribe and audience members alike in his leather loincloth.
As Claude, understudy Marshal Kennedy Carolan (who will play the role throughout the Cleveland engagement) has pleasing moments. But his voice is a bit too weak to make some of his songs take flight, such as the Act One closer “Where Do I Go?”
In the key role of Sheila, Sara King sings powerfully but seemed to be pushing to hard from the outset, perhaps in an attempt to goose the flagging energy level of the overall production. As Hud, Mike Evariste handles his duties well although burdened with a voluminous Afro wig that looked like it had been sitting folded in a suitcase too long.
The tribe members (which include Kent State University graduate John Moauro) are nicely decked out by costume designer Michael McDonald. And they contribute plenty of volume but don’t find as many moments as they could to shine individually, even for a nanosecond or two.
Things picked up in the second act, especially during Claude’s hallucinogenic dream sequence when Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth make an appearance.
But Hair is a show that needs to go balls-to-the-wall from start to finish, otherwise it’s a betrayal of the full commitment of those rebels they’re portraying. Here’s hoping the remaining performances at the Palace demonstrate that all-or-nothing approach.
Through January 29 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1518 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.