Hair isn’t the kind of musical you watch for its story. Functioning instead as a portrait of the hippie counterculture in 1960s New York, it’s essentially a two-and-a-half-hour collection of songs and surreal, drug-induced sequences. In the hands of Repertory Philippines, Hair impressively retains most of its controversial power. Though this production falls a little shy of replicating the wild abandon of the original, it still demands viewing as a spectacle that will upset and frustrate certain people, and hopefully enthrall the rest.
Everything about Hair is an act of rebellion: its reckless characters, its overwhelming live music, and its disregard for narrative structure. In this respect, Hair has inherent value; it’s unlike anything you’re probably ever going to see, constantly pushing back against any preconceptions of how musical theater should play out. The source material is also inherently problematic, never coming across as a complete portrayal of hippie life, due to its intentionally narrow perspective.
So the best thing a theater company can do with a show like Hair is to establish enough order amid the chaos so that its myriad of messages shines through to the audience. Director Chris Millado accomplishes this without losing the free spirit of his characters. All throughout the musical, they wander the stage seemingly at random, only for them to converge into precise tableaus. However, one does get the sense that this rendition of Hair could have cut loose even more. Certain gimmicks (such as having members of the cast run up the aisles of the Onstage Theatre), while entertaining, can feel repetitive after a while.
Still, there’s just so much going on in Hair that it’s hard to look away. A gorgeous set makes great use of screens, projections, and smoke to capture the dreamlike, hallucinatory lifestyle of the characters, while the music is as funky and diverse as it’s ever been—taking on the vibrancy of a sweaty rock concert.
But the most impressive part of Repertory Philippines’ Hair is still its incredibly versatile cast of performers, all of who are required to lose themselves completely. Standouts include Topper Fabregas (Claude), who communicates everything you need to know solely through his eyes, and Maronne Cruz (Jeanie) who effortlessly inhabits a variety of personalities throughout the show. Hair achieves its power through all the little things its actors do, creating an atmosphere that eventually convinces you that this is not a performance, but a way of life.
HAIR RUNS UNTIL DECEMBER 17 AT ONSTAGE, GREENBELT 1. PURCHASE TICKETS AT TICKETWORLD.COM.PH.