'Hair' brings nostalgia to Corn Stock Theatre

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When Corn Stock Theatre was considering whether to stage the musical "Hair" during its summer season this year, there was concern about the older patrons of the theatre and how they would react to the show that puts the hippie culture out front like no other play.

The way others look at it, including Chip Joyce, who is directing the show that opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. under the tent at Upper Bradley Park, some of those older patrons may have been hip-deep in that culture 44 years ago, when "Hair" was first produced on Broadway.

(Photo courtesy of Corn Stock Theatre) Members of The Tribe, the characters in the musical "Hair," carry the character known as Berger, portrayed by Jeremy Kelly, while singing one of the show's signature songs. "Hair" opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. under the tent at Corn Stock Theatre."The music is as great today as it was when first written, but many of our patrons loved the music when it first came out. I mean, I understand the concern but I really believe the handful of people that get offended will be far outnumbered by those who enjoy the show for what it is," Joyce said.

"Hair" is not anything like most musicals that have a sweet love story with music any age can enjoy and appreciate, with waltzes and other dances that show what it was like in yesteryear. In other words, it won't be confused with "Hello, Dolly," which opened the Corn Stock summer season in June.

"If this experiment, putting a show like this in the tent, backfires then so be it. But I don't believe it will. I think it will bring back memories to our older patrons and open the minds of our younger patrons to the way things were at the time, to a culture that was unique. At the time 'Hair' was cutting-edge commentary on the times. Now it is nostalgia and it's a different and exciting piece for Corn Stock," Joyce said.

"Hair" is the final show of the regular summer season. The show will be performed Friday through Sept. 1, starting at 7:30 each night. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students.  

On Broadway there was a nude scene at the end of Act One that was quite controversial at the time. It would still be controversial in a community theatre setting. But Joyce, while not disclosing how that scene is being handled in this show, said there is nothing anybody needs to worry about nudity-wise. Also, the worst of the vulgar language has been eliminated for this show.(Photo courtesy of Corn Stock Theatre) Dominique Allison, who portrays Dionne in Corn Stock Theatre's production of "Hair," belts out a song during a recent dress rehearsal.

"We are conscious of the concerns of all our patrons, so there really is nothing to be uncomfortable about. But we also hope it becomes more than just a passive experience for people. We hope they feel involved," he said, noting he expects a lot of people to sing along with some of the music.

"Hair" includes such songs as Aquarius, I Believe in Love, Hair, Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sun Shine In. The show was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot. For the Corn Stock production Joyce is using an eight-piece band directed by Laura Weaver Hughes. Choreographer is Heather Klaus.

Lights, an important part of an often-psychedelic show like "Hair," were designed and executed by Megan Larke.

The set, appearing to be an old shed or garage, is built in a way to allow the performers to interact with the audience in places.

Many of the performers in the show are first-timers to the Corn Stock stage, at least in the tent. But Joyce said all of them have some stage experience in the area and will be recognizable to audience members. "I wanted people with incredible voices to carry the score and I also wanted the show to be racially integrated, which was one of the keys to 'Hair.' We were able to accomplish both of those objectives," he said.

Among the performers are Jerod Hazard as Claude, the character torn by his opposition to the Vietnam War and the wishes of his family to not resist the draft. Jeremy Kelly portrays his best friend Berger and Bree Carroll plays their roommate Sheila. Tim Jenkins portrays Woof, Rachel Wooden is Jeanie, Darren Jackson is Hud, Dominique Allison is Dionne and Mariah Thornton is Crissy.

Rounding out the 22-member cast, known in the show as "the Tribe," are Bryan Blanks, Rahmell Brown, Aaron Elwell, Eric Gore, Katy Hawley, Molly Joyce, Susan Knobloch, Mindy LaHood, Laura Maushard, Jenny Morris, Trevor Neff, Derek Pitzer, Krystal Uhl and Kristen Williams.

Most of the men are in long-hair wigs styled like the flower children of the era. The clothing will be nostalgic, as well.

Resistance to the Vietnam War and the draft is the focal point of the show, but even though neither of those exist anymore Joyce believes some of the themes are still relevant. "We are a peaceful people, for the most part, and there are a lot of people today who don't believe we should be involved with some of the wars we are fighting in and losing loved ones," he said.

Joyce said he has been questioned by some people about why he wanted to do "Hair" and why would he and a cast of performers who were not even born yet in the 1960s care about the issues. "I guess one answer is that Civil War re-enactors weren't born yet during the Civil War. That doesn't mean it wasn't a relevant piece of our history," he said.

Cast members had varied reasons for wanting to be part of the show, but most said it was the music as much as the message. Knobloch said another reason "Hair" is important to her is that "1968 was also a very important year for women, for the freedoms they've gained and for becoming equals."

She added, "I think I would have really enjoyed the hippie lifestyle."

Hazard, while he portrays the lead character, admits he knew very little about "Hair" before he auditioned. "I knew some of the music and what I knew I loved. It's rock-and-roll. But mostly once I learned it was a true ensemble cast, I wanted to be part of it with my friends. I have come to under what this show is about and the conflictions my character and the others feel," he said.

Elwell acknowledged "Hair" was a "little bit out of the comfort zone for most of us when we started. The spirit of that time was a lot different. Yet it was a fascinating time in America's history and the issues were important then and they remain important today."

To reserve tickets call the Corn Stock box office at 676-2196 or email tickets@cornstocktheatre.com.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).