Asolo Rep's Hair Offers Sunshine and Darkness

The always changing show presents a new version, for a new generation.

By Kay Kipling December 1, 2021

Cast members of Asolo Rep's Hair.

Image: Cliff Roles

How you feel about the rock musical Hair probably depends on your age, your nostalgia level (assuming you have any) and your preferences for either strong music and lively spirit or a strong storyline. You may even end up somewhere in the middle—fondly recalling the many original songs, some of which became pop hits, and admiring the show’s revolutionary role in theater history, but still secretly wishing there was a narrative thread tying all the scenes more fully together.

Put me in that camp. I’ve seen several productions of the show, which debuted on Broadway in 1968, over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed the music and the atmosphere while still feeling myself frustrated by the deliberate lack of a more cohesive, complete narrative. The creators, Gerome Ragni and James Rado (working with composer Galt McDermott), didn’t want to use that conventional approach, obviously, and many audiences over the decades have been thrilled enough by the songs and the fervor of the antiwar, antiprejudice, and pro-love and peace themes to go with the flow.

In Asolo Rep’s long-delayed season opening production of Hair (Covid-19 and other illnesses apparently played havoc with company members), the more things change, the more they remain the same. In 1968, the war was in Vietnam, but as at least one scenic device here makes clear, there have always been wars and always will be. The show’s original cast, in the 1960s, was made up of a surprising, for the time, mix of ethnic backgrounds; that remains true in this production, with the addition of various body types and actors with varying gender identities offstage. Inclusivity reigns, and that’s a good thing.

Becca Andrews as Jeannie and Damon J. Gillespie as Claude in Hair.

Image: Cliff Roles

Director-choreographer Joshua Rhodes (who’s helmed a number of more traditional musicals at Asolo Rep in the past) has assembled a cast of young, passionate performers here, and on opening night several of them had to sub in for the usual actors in their roles. That may have contributed to a slight feeling of hesitancy in the opening scene, where draft birthdates are being called out as the “pack” (not the tribe) assembles in an East Village park.

That pack includes the flamboyant Berger (Matthew Skrovan in this performance), the gentle Woof (Jonathan Fleites), the forceful Hud (Nora Schell), the activist Sheila (Sophia Rose Byrd in this performance) and the mixed-up Claude (Damon J. Gillespie), who’s really from Flushing but pretends to be from Manchester, England. That’s part of his way of coping with his anguish about being called up to fight, and his uncertainty over whether or not to burn his draft card.

Charnette Batey as Dionne.

Image: Cliff Roles

Also in the pack: the innocent Jeannie (Becca Andrews), knocked up by a speed freak but in love with Claude; Crissy (Aubrey Matalon), seeking the missing “Frank Mills”; and Dionne (Charnette Batey), who leads the opening number, “Aquarius.” There are some nice voices in the cast (none stronger than Schell’s as Hud), and with colorful hippie-like décor and costumes by Anna Louizos and Dede Ayite, respectively, Hair is fun to look at as well as listen to...until things turn darker near the end. The darkness includes an extended hallucination scene for Claude, as he meets historical figures from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln while also coming face to face with a Viet Cong fighter. 

Asolo Rep and Rhodes have trimmed the original show to fit into an intermission-less 90-minute running time (among songs you might or might not miss, the “Black Boys/White Boys” numbers sung by the women of the cast). It’s hard to tell whether that adds to the occasional confusion making it hard to follow the action, or if that’s just inherent in the loose book.

Given the challenges the cast and crew of this Hair have faced, it’s reasonable to assume that the performances will gain in vigor and certainty as the run continues, through Jan. 1. For tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or go to


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