Weekender

Penn State Centre Stage gets groovy with ‘Hair’

The cast and crew of the Penn State Centre Stage production of “Hair” rehearse in preparation for the opening of the Tony Award-winning musical at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center.
The cast and crew of the Penn State Centre Stage production of “Hair” rehearse in preparation for the opening of the Tony Award-winning musical at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center. Photo provided

The Broadway production of “Hair” debuted in April 1968, creating political and societal controversy with its nudity, depictions of illicit drug use and dissent toward American political and cultural norms.

Almost 50 years later, Penn State Centre Stage will present its version of “Hair,” hoping to spark a conversation about some of the same societal issues that the show did in the late 1960s.

Previews of the musical run 7:30 pm. March 29 and 31. With one off day set for April 3, Centre Stage will perform each day at 7:30 p.m. from April 1-9 in the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center. Additional matinee performances will take place at 2 p.m. on April 2 and 9.

Director Emmy Frank said she chose the play due to its controversial themes, which she believes are still relevant topics for discussion in 2016. Frank is a master’s candidate in directing for musical theater at Penn State.

It’s just a fabulous show because it breaks every rule.

Director Emmy Frank

“It’s just a fabulous show because it breaks every rule,” Frank said. “If the audience comes out of the show talking about 10 percent of the issues, then we have more than done our job.”

“Hair” is a rock musical about a group of hippies called the “tribe,” and it takes place in an East Village park of New York City during 1967.

Facing the pressures of the mandatory enlistment to fight the Vietnam War, Claude (played by Aidan Wharton) and his friends in the tribe attempt to balance their places in the growing counterculture and their roles in the current, more conservative society.

The counterculture movement, to which the “tribe” belonged, often protested the established social structures of America in the 1960s. Members of the movement were displeased with the racism, sexism and conformity of the times. They decided to speak out against the status quo, hoping to change those cultural norms.

In the press release for the show, Penn State Centre Stage released a viewer discretion statement about the explicit content of the show: “No one under the age of 18 will be admitted without PSU I.D. or parent/guardian.”

For Wharton and other members of the cast, the content of the show is what makes it special and all the more necessary to perform.

“There’s so much that hasn’t been fixed that (“Hair”) brought to light in 1968,” Wharton said. “We need to pay as much, if not more attention to it in 2016.”

Frank said the issues presented in the production are especially important because of the upcoming election, which has been one of the more controversial ones in recent memory. She said she’s heard this year’s presidential election compared to the one in 1968, which dealt with many of the issues on display in “Hair.”

Brinie Wallace, who plays Dionne, said while the racial topics of the show could be hard for some viewers to handle, she thinks the production discusses them “tastefully.”

“I think what really stands out as a current issue is the racial tension that is so wild right now,” Wallace said. “We bring up subjects that are easy to digest when you first take them in, but after the show I think they’re something to chew on.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Penn State Centre Stage’s “Hair”
  • When: March 29-April 9
  • Where: Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St., State College
  • Info: theatre.psu.edu/hair
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