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WBGO: Olivia Puckett stars in HAIR at Two River Theater

by Doug Doyle

HAIR, the legendary American love-rock musical, runs through October 22 and opens Two River Theater’s 30th anniversary season in Red Bank, New Jersey.

During HAIR’s Summer of Love, a group of young Americans dream of a beautiful future filled with harmony and understanding. The groundbreaking rock musical (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot) first hit Broadway in 1967 and includes the Grammy Award-winning hits “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and the title song’s ode to long, brilliant, beautiful “Hair!”

Director James Vásquez (Old Globe Resident Artist, American Mariachi) and choreographer Mayte Natalio (Love in Hate Nation) bring their 2021 staging from the Old Globe Theatre, which was hailed as “A first-class production.

Actress Olivia Puckett, who plays “Sheila,” spoke to WBGO’s Doug Doyle about her role in her Two River debut and her career that including Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen and Motown as well as national tours of Hamilton, Motown, and American Idiot.

“Sheila has been primarily played by white women. As a woman of color, I did research on Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm and tried to bring in some revolutionary fighting for race equality, female equality and love. Our director James Vásquez was influential in helping me play the character in an authentic way as a Brown and Black woman with hopes of bringing some authentic 1960’s realness.”

Olivia Puckett joins WBGO's Doug Doyle to talk about her role in HAIR at Two River Theater
Doug Doyle/Zoom
Olivia Puckett joins WBGO’s Doug Doyle to talk about her role in HAIR at Two River Theater

Puckett says HAIR is still so relatable in 2023.

“Unfortunately, especially what’s happening in the world right now, we are still dealing with so much fear of the other. I think that HAIR, dealing with the Vietnam War, that was a huge moment of fear in the world. Hippie love, we sort of make fun of it, but I think we’ve all sort of become Hippies. All we want is equity, equality, love and acceptance. I think it’s so relevant today. I can see in the audience. We’re getting a lot of different age groups and we’re getting people who were very much alive in the 1960’s and then we’re getting some who were in college. Their reactions are both the same. We are still the same people fighting for the same things.

In the musical, “Claude”, his good friend “Berger,” their roommate “Sheila” and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution, with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society.

“Sheila is a freshman at NYU and I think she’s found this group and community fighting for the cause. She meets this free and kind of wild guy named Berger who is also a teenager. That’s something that people forget is that the characters in HAIR are all teens. I think she’s really intrigued by this kind of wild man. They fall for each other. I just think their relationship is so real, so beautiful and heartbreaking.”

Puckett says working with the crew and cast at Two River Theater has been a dream. Other members of the cast include Jordan Dobson (Claude), Andrew Polec (Berger), Janelle McDermoth (Dionne), Olivia Oguman (Jeanie), Baily Day Sonner (Crissy), Tré Frazier (Hud), and Angel Sigala (Woof).

Olivia Puckett admits she still gets anxiety before each show, but her experience and confidence eventually takes over. She was the Dance Captain in the Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen and played the dual roles of “Peggy Schuyler” and “Maria Reynolds” in the National Tour of Hamilton.

“Hamilton was a blast. To play two different roles is like an actors dream. You get to be both sides of the spectrum, the silly lister sister and then the mistress who stirs everything up in the second act. I would say I’m much more of a Peggy in real life, strong-willed, young, scared and anxious, that’s much more me.”