MSU Theatre and Dance Presents Hair, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Apr 2, 2016

MSU Theatre and Dance will present the iconic 1960s musical "Hair" in Coger Theatre April 7-10.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Missouri State University Theatre and Dance)

Rick Dines is best known locally for his many years of work with Springfield Contemporary Theatre. But when he stopped by the KSMU studios on Friday he was here to talk about a production at a different venue. He's directing the Missouri State University Theatre and Dance production of the now-classic "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," Hair.

Talking about how he came to get involved with the production, Rick says, "There were some (Theatre and Dance) faculty members leaving, and they were having to figure out how to cover the season. So they were looking for outside directors.  This season both of the musicals have actually been directed by alums.  And so I was available, and it's a show I have a long history with and love dearly."

In this story of the hippie ethos of the late 1960s, Claude (played by Noah Jermain) and his friends belong to a tribe of young political activists and free spirits living in New York City in the late 1960s. When not engaged in anti-war protests and be-ins, the group explores free love and consciousness-expanding drugs. In the midst of all the “beads, flowers, freedom and happiness,” Claude is summoned by the local draft board for military service in Vietnam. Ultimately, he must decide whether to submit to the expectations of his conservative parents and society — thus sacrificing his pacifist values and possibly his life — or burn his draft card in unity with the tribe.

Rick Dines feels that one of Hair's biggest selling points is composer Galt McDermot's score, full of hit songs like "Aquarius" and "Good Morning Starshine."  He says McDermot is "one of the very few composers for the musical theatre that had his finger on the pulse of contemporary music, and it didn't sound like a 'Broadway-ized' version of contemporary music." Simply put, McDermot was writing late 1960s rock music, period. "It's the last show that had multiple radio hits come out of it.  There has not been a show since--even with the success of Hamilton now--it's not on the radio." Dines calls Hair "the sound of a generation."

He notes that, after an extremely popular beginning--first off-Broadway, and then on Broadway--Hair was revived in the 1970s, and then dropped off the map for about two decades starting about 1980. "I think, truly, it was the AIDS crisis, and it was at that point irresponsible to produce a show about 'free love!'" Hair eventually re-emerged as a "period piece," and it's seen a major revival of interest and productions in the past five or six years, says Rick Dines--an interest that's "less about the drugs and free love, and more about the political activism, and youth being politically active, because the youth of America became awfully complacent for a long time. The youth of America is back to being very politically active and aggressive, and I think that's what makes the show relatable again. With the exception of the draft, everything else in the show"--not just sex/drugs/rock'n'roll, but issues such as civil rights and race relations, social change, gender issues and gay rights, peace... issues Rick Dines says "we're still grappling with today."

Despite the fact that, as Rick points out, his entire cast is "two generations removed" from the events depicted in Hair, student actor Jordan Woods is convinced that the show contains something relatable "for everyone, whether it's political or historical.  We briefly list a ton of things and political/pop figures of the '60s, like Timothy Leary. I had no idea who he was until this show, and now I know what an icon he was for these people. Last semester we did Dogfight, which takes place in the early 1960s, and it's very patriotic, very military based. And then to come to this, which is later in the '60s--that span of (less than) ten years is incredible to witness, from where these army boys come from in the beginning of the '60s to this Free Love movement, against war and so much about peace and love. Just that journey itself over this past year has been amazing, learning about the history and the politics, or learning about what it means to be peacful and not confrontational."

Director Rick Dines thinks we may yet see another movement away from "rancor and tumultuousness" and more towards peaceful protest. "One of the things I find different right now is there seems to be such a move to lash out at people on your own side of the argument, if your arguments don't perfectly gel--as opposed to remembering that there is something that is diametrically opposite you, and maybe that's what you should be focused on, maybe that's your 'enemy' in this fight. I don't remember seeing that in the '60s, in any of the stuff I've researched about the show over the years--I've never seen in-fighting quite like that in the '60s."

That's not to say that the hippie tribe in Hair wasn't "angry and confrontational at times too--they have their moments," adds Rick Dines.

Rick offers special praise for his student cast. "I've had the great pleasure, over the last 12 to 18 months on different productions downtown, to work with several of the current students in this department right now. I do think right now they have one of the most talented groups of students that have come through at one time in quite a while. And so I jumped at the chance to get to work not only with those I had already worked with, but some that I had seen onstage and hadn't gotten a chance to work with.  And they just blow me away every night."

Hair will be performed in Craig Hall Coger Theater Thursday through Saturday April 7-9 at 7:30pm and Sunday April 10 at 2:30pm.  Tickets are $18 adults; $16 students/Seniors; or $12 in advance with MSU ID.  Call 836-7678 or visit  http://www.missouristatetix.com.