Review: HAIR at Mercury Theater

Review: HAIR at Mercury Theater

Mercury Theater’s revival of the iconic rock musical HAIR infuses some peace, love, and sunshine into this Chicago summer. While Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s lyrics still resonant today, this production stays firmly rooted in the late 1960s. Brenda Didier’s direction, Robert Kuhn’s costumes, and Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design all have a “traditional” feel—at least traditional by the show’s standards. Certainly HAIR’s call for peace and embrace of the Tribe’s diverse identities echo the present and remind us of the progress yet to be made, but this staging does not underscore that relevance based on production choices.

The intimacy of Mercury Theater’s venue and Kmiec’s convincingly precarious and disheveled set design provide the backdrop for a HAIR that’s worth watching. Didier’s ensemble knows just what to do with Galt McDermot’s music. They harmonize nicely together, and some standout Tribe members give unforgettable performances. Lucy Godinez (who is presently a rising senior at Northwestern University) makes a stellar Jeanie. She is utterly present and hilarious in her solo number “Air,” which she sings with an inch of its life. Godinez also makes herself noticeable in the Tribe’s group numbers. She has one of the most expressive faces I’ve seen and leans into HAIR’s eccentric vibe. Michelle Lauto makes an excellent Sheila, convincing audiences that she may be the one out of this bedraggled, meandering Tribe to make substantial change. She nails Sheila’s heart-wrenching ballad “Easy To Be Hard” and also essays her complex vocal part with ease in the show’s finale. Evan Tyrone Martin, always a welcome presence on the Chicago stage, does not disappoint with his take on Hud. Leryn Turlington makes a winsome and personable Crissy, and she makes her solo song “Frank Mills” a real highlight. Matthew Keffer is sardonic and an occasional ham as Berger, but he gives the role just the right amount of outsized snark without overdoing it. As beloved Tribe member Claude Bukowski, Liam Quealy has a strong handle on the vocals, but he lacks some of the emotional presence the character needs. While Claude is supposed to be the beating heart of the Tribe, Quealy appears to take his time finding the emotional center of his performance—though it does pay off in the final number.

While Mercury’s cast provides a free-wheeling and whimsical Tribe that finds some lovely heartfelt moments together, they cannot make up for HAIR’s odd structure. Individual musical numbers in HAIR have always landed far better for me than the show on the whole, particularly in Act Two’s messy and overlong drug trip. HAIR is also remembered for being radical enough to show a flash of nudity when it premiered on Broadway in 1968; here Pete Guither’s psychedelic projections illuminate the cast while Claude sings his Act One closer “Where Do I Go.” It’s an interesting visual tactic that doesn’t entirely eliminate the oddness of the moment.

Though HAIR remains a plotless ride, Mercury’s cast makes it a joy to hear these iconic numbers sung live again. Every time this Tribe sings , they are indeed letting the sunshine in.

HAIR runs through September 17 at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 North Southport. Tickets are $30-$65. or 773.525.1700.

Photo Credit: Brett A. Beiner

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