The experience of Hair at Portland Center Stage, at least for me, was all about energy. This “love-rock musical” is light on plot, but heavy on feeling. Set during the sexual revolution and anti-Vietnam War peace movement of the 1960s, this boundary-breaking show manages to tackle incredibly heavy content with a joyful sweetness that should feel incongruous but doesn’t.
Like Rent and Hamilton, this show is iconic for its effect on the culture at large. It was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1969, charted No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and received a Grammy Award in 1969 for “Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album.” The album sold nearly three million copies by 1969, and it remains relevant today in a time when protests against violence, a sense of fragility surrounding our democracy, and the idea of chosen family are all immediate and familiar.
I experienced this show as a series of sketches, often with a satirical tone, each song feeling as if it could stand alone. The opening night crowd was especially enthusiastic — they laughed, shouted, sang, and stood up to dance throughout the performance. The music was the highlight of the night, and there’s not one weak vocalist in the extensive cast. I especially enjoyed the performances by actors Olivia Lucy Phillip (as Dionne) and Lauren Steele (as Jeanie).
Before you plan your date night or night out with friends, you should know that there’s quite a bit of audience interaction in this show, so get tickets farther back if you’re on the shy side, or closer if you don’t mind an actor sitting in your lap or asking you for some spare change. The show includes complete nudity (photography is strictly prohibited), drug use, and mature themes and language. It is recommended for ages 14 and up. Director Isaac Lamb encourages audiences to come into the room as themselves. He says, “[Enter] with your full authentic selves, because that’s what the performers are going to do … there’s a beautiful act of trust between performer and audience.”
Hair is showing through November 5. Get tickets here before the run ends. If tickets prices feel out of reach, you’re in luck, because Portland Center Stage has some of the best ticket specials in town, including a pay-what-you-will night on October 18. Learn more here.
Can’t get enough of live performances? See our comprehensive guide here.
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