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TWO RIVER TIMES: “Hair” Celebrates the Summer of Love at Two River Theater

by Mary Ann Bourbeau

RED BANK – The 1960s rock musical “Hair” will open the Two River Theater’s 30th anniversary season beginning Sept. 30 and running through Oct. 22. Directed by James Vásquez (“Under a Baseball Sky,” “American Mariachi”), this will be the Two River Theater’s biggest musical to date, with a cast of 12 along with seven band members. Vásquez, a resident artist at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and choreographer Mayte Natalio (“Love in Hate Nation”) are bringing their 2021 staging from the Old Globe, which was hailed by San Diego Story as “A First-class production. This is a ‘Hair’ to seek out.”

“I grew up with ‘Hair,” said Vásquez, as he explained his passion for the musical. “It’s iconic and alive and has an energy to it. Beyond that, there’s the activist in me, the human who continually hopes for a brighter future. Every generation brings a new fight to the forefront.”

“Hair” stars Jordan Dobson (“Hadestown,” “A Beautiful Noise”) and Andrew Polec (“Bat Out of Hell,” “The Beautiful Lady”), along with a cast bursting with Broadway credits, including Tré Frazier, Janelle McDermoth, Olivia Oguma, Olivia Puckett, Angel Sigala and Bailey Day Sonner.

Considered one of the most influential musicals of the 1960s, “Hair” centers on the youth hippie movement and anti-Vietnam War sentiment during the Summer of Love, when young people rallied for a future filled with peace, harmony and understanding. The show follows Claude, a young man on the verge of being drafted, and his group of hippie friends, and spawned many hit songs including “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Patrons should be aware that this production contains nudity, adult language, drug references, strong racial language and sexual references.

Many of “Hair’s” themes such as sexual liberation, mind-expanding drugs, racially charged language and the desecration of the American flag were shocking at the time, and some remain so. While some aspects of the original show have been changed, others remain.

“Some audiences believe in the changes and some do not,” said Vásquez. “The original show had an all-white cast. We’ve made progress but the racial divide is still there. There’s also a gender conversation. You cannot do ‘Hair’ without having a point of view of the world today. Many of the issues of 1968 are still here today. We want to celebrate everyone and make it OK to have disagreements.”

The ending scene involves Claude as he makes a decision whether to go to war or burn his draft card, and this is where the nudity comes in.

“It’s the idea of freedom, of not falling into a structured military line,” said Vásquez. “It’s a moment where these characters celebrate their authenticity and liberation.”

Vásquez praised the creativity of Natalio, who he said built the choreography based on each cast member’s special skills and abilities.

“It feels very organic and natural, and every actor has a moment in center stage,” said Vásquez. “While there’s a message of protest, there’s also a message of joy.”

Working on this production at Two River Theater has been a joy for Vásquez, who praised the theater’s new leadership – artistic director Justin Waldman and managing director Nora DeVeau-Rosen.

“I’m blown away by this facility,” he said. “It’s state-of-the-art and filled with some of the most passionate and creative folks I’ve met. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into a family. The new leadership has fresh energy for telling stories for the community, which they have built off the old staff.”

Tickets are $50 to $80 and can be purchased by phone, in person or at Discounts are available for seniors, military and those age 35 and under. There are student matinees at 10 a.m. Oct. 12 and 19, open captioned and audio description performances, a sensory inclusive performance and a Play Date, for which parents are offered free childcare on the premises while they enjoy a matinee. There is also an opening night VIP Dinner Friday, Oct. 6.

In conjunction with the show, Two River Theater will be hosting several Hair-inspired events. At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, Waldman will conduct a casual interview with Vásquez about his artistic vision for the musical.

At noon Saturday, Oct. 14, the theater presents 1968: An American Turning Point, a panel discussion with scholars from Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College on one of the most transformative years in U.S. history.

Register for these and other free events on the theater’s website.

This article originally appeared in the September 21 – 27, 2023 print edition of The Two River Times.