If you don’t read those words, you SING them, then you came of age in the late Sixties, and quite possibly you went the whole hog — leather vests over naked chests, love beads and love-INS, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and you learned to strum at least three chords on the guitar.
The musical “Hair,” book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Gail Mcdermot, debuted at the Public Theater in 1967 before going on to Broadway, and it caught the rising tide of those quixotic times. Looking back from a 47-year distance, we can see the hopelessness of the cause in the very fabric of its beauty and its bleakness. Who’s going to feed all those hippy-dippy creatures in loincloths? And how will they feed themselves? Their farms failed, their communes fell apart, and banging tambourines on street corners only fetched a few dollars in sad little jars. This was a children’s crusade, doomed from the start.
Yet a message of revolution, of dignity for all, still percolated. As cast member Matt Mariner, 22, of Sutton and Vineyard Haven, put it the other day during a rehearsal break: “The first hippy generation didn’t succeed, but it takes time for new ideas to catch on.”
Staging “Hair” at the PAC was the brainchild of Island families, with parents and kids jumping aboard: Kaela-Vecchia Zeitz, cast member, is a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), while mom Phyllis Vecchia, drama teacher, heads up costumes, and dad Barney Zeitz, sculptor, is in the cast. Liam Weiland, MVRHS, acts and sings, while dad Brian Weiland, Oak Bluffs School music teacher, plays lead guitar in the band featured at center stage left. Sydney Johnson, Islander, is in the cast, and dad Eric Johnson, musician and teacher, plays bass guitar (George Luton is on keyboard, Maddie Scott on drums, and Steve Tulley plays sax, flute, and clarinet). Darby Patterson, MVRHS, is a cast member, while dad Geoff Patterson, contractor, rigged up the sound. Sam Permar, MVRHS grad, now at the Tisch School in New York City, is in the cast; sister Tessa Permar, 23, recent Vassar grad, is the director; mom Jane Dreeben is producing.
More local high schoolers were added to the mix. An online casting call went out, which led to Skype auditions. Michele DeGeofroy, 17, opined, “This is a very Island musical. We’re a small community, so we can take a closer look at what’s been fixed and what still needs to be fixed, just like they did in the Sixties.”
Mr. Zeitz said he was 18 when “Hair” first appeared on Broadway: “I’ve been depressed doing this play now, because so many problems are still with us.” Safyia Harris, 18, from Miami, said, “In those days, everyone was in danger of getting drafted. Now young people join the military voluntarily, but it’s important to challenge what they’re being asked to do as if it’s happening to all of us.” Mikah Baumrin, 17, from New York, now attending LaGuardia Community College, said, “This play is about equal rights, and we’re still fighting to say, ‘Black lives matter!’”
Performers strapped on mics, the director advising, “Keep these turned on at all times.” An actress said, “I don’t want anyone hearing me in the bathroom!” The band fired up. Songs spilled out. Big ensemble numbers tumbled forth with dance-style freakouts and pileups of bodies: “Gimme a head with hair/ long streaming hair … Daddy! Daddy! Hair!”
It’s all a great brocaded bolt of fun and memories, zipped into a sense of a new generation maybe getting it, you know, that idealistic thing, that love thing, that be-yourself thing. The Age of Aquarius came and flopped, but let’s see what new bright future unfolds.
The 2008 restaging of “Hair” on Broadway led Time Magazine to declare, “‘Hair’ seems, if anything, more daring than ever.” Go get your fix at the PAC this weekend.
“Hair” at the Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs. Proceeds from the performance will go to the Vineyard House, a sober-living facility. The show runs August 6, 7, 8, and 9 at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 at ticketsmv.com or at the door.