Review: Hair (Mercury Theater Chicago)

| August 10, 2017

Michelle Lauto and ensemble in Hair, Mercury Theater Chicago            


Music by Galt MacDermot 
Book/Lyrics by Gerome Ragni, James Rado
Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport (map)
thru Sept 24  |  tix: $30-$65  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Dynamic, explosive and timely


Hair ensemble at Mercury Theater Chicago 2

Mercury Theater Chicago presents
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Review by Lauren Whalen

After I saw the touring production of Hair’s Tony Award-winning revival in 2010, my aunt told me about being an audience member in the first Chicago production. Apparently, the FBI set up outside the theater so, my aunt told me, “I’m probably on a watch list somewhere.” Controversial to the point of dangerous in the late 1960s, Hair is still edgy, with nudity, simulated drug use and profanity galore. In some ways, I wish it wasn’t still so relevant, because that would mean society had progressed beyond warmongering, racism and good old traditionalism. Mercury Theater Chicago’s production is explosive and Liam Quealy and Ensemble in Hair, Mercury Theater Chicagotimely, with a dynamic cast, a score that’s both thought-provoking and fun, and a message that still radiates.

Mostly through-sung with a bit of dialogue here and there, Hair follows a group of happy hippies in 1967 New York City. They engage in different forms of rebellion: charismatic Berger (Matthew Keffer) gleefully quits high school, while his girlfriend Sheila (Michelle Lauto) marches on Washington. Drugs and free love are plentiful, but the party’s coming to an end for Claude (Liam Quealy) when his draft card comes in the mail. Facing certain death in Vietnam or a five-year prison sentence for dodging, Claude finds himself at a crossroads: what and who, exactly, does he want to be?

Hair’s most recent Broadway revival featured some updates to the script: the second act mainly focused on Claude coming to terms with a decision he made at the end of the first. The revival wisely cut out most of a long drug-trip montage, which is featured here in its entirety and is one of the few parts of the show that hasn’t aged terribly well. Even without the updates, however, Mercury’s production highlights what was problematic in the sixties and still is today: black lives don’t matter, war is unnecessary hell, and a generation (then, hippies; now, millennials) has the potential to change the world – if only older folks would listen.

Hair ensemble at Mercury Theater ChicagoEvan Tyrone Martin stars in Hair, Mercury Theater Chicago

Director Brenda Didier keeps the energy flowing and the pacing tight, and clearly cares about every character, from leads Claude and Berger to the ensemble members, some of whom play multiple roles. Every actor’s done their homework and it shows: while Hair can get away with being two hours of singing and dancing flower children, this production gives the musical the emotional heft it deserves. Chris Carter’s choreography is spot-on and perfectly executed, and Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s mostly-deconstructed set works well, though I could have done without the haphazardly-stacked chairs I’ve seen so many times before. Robert Kuhn’s costume design is vivid and gorgeous, all wild colors and flowing fabrics, and only one wig is obviously just that.

Matt Keffer and Ensemble in Hair, Mercury Theater ChicagoMichelle Lauto and ensemble in Hair, Mercury Theater Chicago

In most cases, I’m not a fan of performers coming into the audience, but in Hair this feels appropriate, immersive and part of the whole experience. The actors’ enthusiasm is contagious and their passion fully on display (my sister received a flower, and I two bear hugs). Everyone is so beautifully cast, it’s difficult to pick standouts, though Keffer is a magnetic Berger and Quealy a sympathetic protagonist. As Hud, Evan Tyrone Martin has phenomenal swagger and vocal presence, and Leryn Turlington’s Crissy is too cute for words. Though Lauto gets a little vocally shrill at times, she’s an excellent fit for the serious, principled Sheila, delivering a moving “Easy to Be Hard.” Both Cherise Thomas and Miciah Long have otherworldly voices and preside over the action like goddesses. Amid all the talent, my favorite of the bunch was Lucy Godinez as Jeanie, a bright young woman pregnant by a “speed freak” and pining for Claude. Godinez is a rising Northwestern senior, but held her own among the more seasoned actors, giving Jeanie a goofy, adorable presence that is utterly lovable from beginning to end.

Because of its adult content, Mercury Theater recommends Hair for ages 12 and up. I think it’s an excellent introduction to political theater for that age group, and can lead to a lot of rich post-show discussions. How were things different in the sixties, and how are they the same in the age of Trump? Why did these young people feel the need to rebel, and what were they rebelling against? What can we do now to improve the world around us? Hair challenges the norm, explores uncomfortable truths, and is still an enjoyable night at the theater that left me energized and inspired.

Rating: ★★★½

Hair continues through September 17th  September 24th at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport (map), with performances Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $30-$65, and are available by phone (773-325-1700) or online at (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at time: 2 hours 10 minutes, no intermission. NOTE: This production contains brief nudity, profanity and simulated drug use, and is recommended for theatergoers over the age of 12. ) 

Liam Quealy and Ensemble in Hair, Mercury Theater Chicago

Photos by Brett A. Beiner 




Liam Quealy (Claude), Matthew Keffer (Berger), Evan Tyrone Martin (Hud), Aaron M. Davidson  (Woof), Craig Underwood (Margaret Meade, Tribe), Caleb Baze (Tourist Man, Tribe), Michelle Lauto (Sheila), Lucy Godinez (Jeanie), Leryn Turlington (Crissy), Cherise Thomas (Dionne)

Tribe: Chuckie Benson, Candace C. Edwards, Andrew Lund, Miciah Long, Mallory Maedke, Marco Tzunux, Craig Underwood

Understudies: Caleb Baze (Claude), Aaron M. Davidson (Berger), Chuckie Benson (Hud), Marco Tzunux (Tourist Man), Andrew Lund (Margaret Meade, Woof), Mallory Maedke (Sheila), Miciah Long (Jeanie, Crissy), Candace C. Edwards (Dionne)


Eugene Dizon (keyboard, conductor), Dan Kristan (bass), Scott Sedlacek (guitar), Greg Strauss (trumpet), Miles Tesar (woodwinds), Lindsay Williams (drums, percussion)

behind the scenes

Brenda Didier (director), Eugene Dizon (music director), Chris Carter (choreographer), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), Nick Belley (lighting design), Robert Kuhn (costume design), Carl Wahlstrohm (sound design), Kristi J. Martens (production stage manager), Brett A. Beiner (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Mercury Theater, Musical

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