Over the weekend, Ensemble’s production of Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” took Alumnae Hall by storm, with four performances spread across Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The show began with cast members stumbling down the aisles, acting as if on hallucinogens and handing audience members fake pills (TicTacs) and marijuana (pieces of paper with “weed” written on them) as they headed towards the stage. The opening number “Aquarius” then set the scene with its upbeat musing on astrology, spirituality and love.
“Hair” is unconventional down to its composition. The first mainstream rock musical, “Hair” is remembered for its abandonment of classic genre conventions. It tells the story of the “tribe,” a diverse group of psychedelic-enthused, long-haired, politically-engaged “hippies” who live in New York City. They spend the greater deal of their time protesting conscription into the Vietnam War and experimenting with drugs. The story focuses on freedom, expression and the importance of uniting under common values and experiences.
For director Sofia Matos ’24, the show’s emphasis on community pushed past the confines of the script, trickling into production dynamics behind the scenes.
“I picked this show because I think at the very core of it is a strong theme of community,” Matos said. “It just resonates really well today throughout the world, the Brown community and the community we’ve created working on this show, too. My goal was to create a community and I think that has really come through.”
Matos expressed her gratitude to each cast member’s dedication, noting that the collaborative nature of the production helped her vision truly come to life.
“It’s an amazing cast and I’ve been so lucky to work with them. It’s very healthy and collaborative,” she said. “I didn’t want things to be organized where I was at the top and then it was everybody else. Everybody has an important part in this and I think theater is best done when everybody is working together in that way.”
For Cassie Travis ’25, one of the show’s executive producers, Matos’s prioritization of community really shone through.
“Getting to executive produce ‘Hair’ gave me the opportunity to see an incredibly talented cast collaborate with a hardworking production team,” they said. “They put on such a beautiful and powerful show that is so relevant to the age we live in.”
Audience member Jacob Gelman ’25 said that the show “felt like a more exciting recap (of) things we read in the news daily.”
“The way the show interacts with protesting the (government) and queerness felt really familiar,” Gelman said. “I think overall it was a light-hearted (musical) that deals with serious topics in a digestible way.”
With the show lasting just over two hours, audience member Michelle Ding ’25 noted the cast’s stamina as they performed taxing numbers successively.
“I’m so impressed that they were able to keep going with both singing and dancing for so long,” she said. “The range of the songs is crazy and they have to dance while doing all of it too. It’s amazing — they were just going at it.”
With flashing lights and bright floral-patterned outfits, the cast danced, crawled, strutted and skipped across the stage. Most scenes incorporated the majority of the cast, but there were also solos that highlighted the individual talents of cast members.
Audience member Elvin Choi ’25, who originally came to support a friend in the cast, ended up enjoying solo performances by several cast members throughout the show.
“There are a lot of really incredible singers and I’ve been really impressed by that,” Choi said.
In the closing song “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sun Shine In),” cast members raised their hands to the ceiling and swayed next to one another before taking a bow. After a standing ovation from the crowd, the cast welcomed Matos onto the stage to dance with them.
In her director’s note, Matos wrote that “this has been one of the most fulfilling shows I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve discovered in our cast, crew and creative (team) a warm and welcoming community like no other.”
“More than anything else, I wanted this show to be about creating a community, about finding the people who will be there to support you in the face of anything at all,” she said. “I wanted us to work together to create something bigger and better than all of us, which I can with absolute certainty say we did.”
Sofia Barnett is a senior staff writer reporting on faculty and higher education for University News. She is a sophomore from Texas studying history, politics, and nonfiction writing.