"Hair" to be staged in Leonia – NorthJersey.com
Remember “The Age of Aquarius?”
If so, you probably remember the dawning of it. Just 50 years ago — if you believe the ground-breaking musical “Hair,” which made its off-Broadway debut in October, 1967.
In advance of its golden anniversary, The Players Guild of Leonia will be donning its love beads, headbands and bellbottoms for a revival, running May 5 to 21.
How to explain The Sixties to the youthful cast at the Players Guild? Most are between the ages of 17 to 30 — and too young and savvy to conceive of a time when hate seemed curable, drugs looked like the answer to everything, and protesters thought they could levitate the Pentagon by using the power of their minds.
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“We elected to concentrate on the innocence of the people,” says Ellyn Essig, the River Vale director who is helming this production at Leonia’s historic Civil War Drill Hall Theater. The cast of 21, accompanied by a five-piece band, will revisit such classic tunes as “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Easy to be Hard,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” and “Manchester England,” while serving up a macrobiotic buffet of hippie issues: long hair, ecology, free love, LSD, Eastern religion, racial equality, anti-war protest.
“We’ve kept it very traditional, we have not updated it,” Essig says. “There’s a lot of audience interaction. They should be prepared for that.”
Expect it, also, to be fun. Expect it to be wild. Expect to come out humming the James Rado-Gerome Ragni-Galt MacDermot songs — especially if you went in humming them. Expect everything except the once-notorious “nude scene,” which caused a brouhaha when the show opened on Broadway in 1968. You will not be seeing that at the Players Guild of Leonia. “They won’t let me,” Essig apologizes.
Essig had some previous experience with ‘Hair.” In 1979 she appeared as an extra in the movie version. “I grew up with this show,” she says. “I loved everything about it. I got the record and I played it until it turned white.”
For this production, she’s had to school the young actors playing hippies in the finer points of 1960s culture — for instance, what “Rinso White” and “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” refer to. “They’ve been really interested in what various things are and mean,” she says. “They don’t have a context.”
The show’s references may have dated. But the basic message remains as potent as ever, Essig believes. “Everything is very relevant today,” she says. “The message is the same. We’re talking about war, we’re talking about climate change, we’re talking about pollution. And we’re talking about being kind to each other.”
Then and now
Astrologers differ on when the “Age of Aquarius” is supposed to start. The earth cycles through 12 ages, representing all the zodiac constellations, over a period of 26,000 years. The point when the age of Pisces becomes the age of Aquarius — the era of love, universal harmony, and hashish brownies — has been variously put as early as the 20th century, and as late as the 24th. But if the lyrics of the song “Aquarius” from the musical “Hair” (also a hit for the 5th Dimension in 1969) are any guide, we’re not there yet.
How to tell? Just look at the lyrics.
If you go
- WHAT: “Hair”
- WHEN: 8 p.m. May 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20. 3 p.m. May 7, 14, 21
- WHERE: Players Guild of Leonia, Civil War Drill Hall Theater, 130 Grand Avenue, Leonia. 201 947-9606 or leoniaplayers.org
- HOW MUCH: $24; $20 for students and seniors.