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Hair, as it turns out, is like the beehives certain members of the B-52s used to sport: a bit dated, but on the right head it works damn well.
The right heads, in this case, are attached to a mostly under-30 cast at Studio Theatre; their madly enthusiastic performances prove that after 30 years the all-singing, all-dancing-and-dope-smoking, let’s-get-naked-and-love-everybody spectacle is still a surprisingly engaging show.
Granted, the once-shocking rock extravaganzain years past, touring productions were occasionally shut down by provincial cops who couldn’t cope with the brief nude scenenowadays seems as much a nostalgia wallow as a confrontational social polemic. And granted, the freewheeling, hedonistic value system espoused by the show’s creators and characters turns out to be as empty as the suburban groupthink satirized here and in plays like David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones (also, incidentally or not, a Vietnam-inspired piece that ends badly for most of those concerned). But the songsby Galt MacDermot, with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Radoare still clever, irreverent, energetic, and exciting.
Director and co-director Keith Alan Baker and Anton Dudley send a talented cast (led by Jason Gilbert, Larry Baldine, and Tracie Nicole Thoms) running through, swinging from, and scrambling over doors, beams, and rooftop skylights at Studio, which has given over most of its third floor to the production; the result is a feeling that you’re in some really cool commune’s really cool loft apartment, watching as the plot plays out.
Aside from a tongue-in-cheek fantasy sequence involving Margaret Mead in leather drag, said plot seems to be chiefly concerned with whether or not Claude (Gilbert), a conflicted but essentially wholesome hippie-in-training, will have the nerve to join his best friend Berger (Baldine) and the others in burning their draft cards. The answer is obvious from early onhe doesn’t, he’s drafted, he dies, and the evening’s tone turns dark. But the getting there involves diversions as diversely rewarding as the ecstatic title tune, the gleefully raunchy ditty “Sodomy,” and the cathartic “Let the Sun Shine In.” The direction is inspired, the band is hot, and the cast is young, pretty, committedand having a blast. All things considered, what’s a little predictability?
Predictability’s a given in Interact Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Purloined “Patience.” It is, after all, a conflation of detective fiction and Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, two of the more formulaic genres known to man.
That said, Nick Olcott’s comedy is more charming than I, an admitted skeptic about all things G&S, had expected. Like most of the works it draws from, it’s overlong; I’d wager a good quarter of it, perhaps even a third, could be chucked without hurting it. But it’s lighthearted and glib, it never takes itself or its sources too seriously, and like Hair, it boasts some genuinely ingratiating tunes and a cast that’s having a grand old time.
Olcott brings Conan Doyle’s detective into the G&S equation by exploiting a historical oddity: In 1881, unlicensed productions of the operetta Patience sprang up in a number of U.S. cities even before the official London premiere, such was Gilbert & Sullivan’s popularity. Naturally, Victorian impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who lost much royalty revenue in the episode, wasn’t amused.
In Purloined “Patience,” Olcott’s D’Oyly Carte sends for Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the matter. Perennial fly-in-the-ointment Inspector Lestrade turns up to run the official Scotland Yard investigation, and (in a rather awkward scene early on) we learn that everyone in the cast has a potential motiveif only because D’Oyly Carte doesn’t pay especially well. Between mystery and inevitable solution we uncover nobles masquerading as commoners, discover commoners pretending to be nobles, find a woman of mystery lying low in a theatrical troupe, and learn of baby-swaps and long-lost lovers. Piffle, all of it, but agreeable piffle, true to the form, and perfectly entertaining, too.
Olcott punctuates the story with something like 30 of Gilbert & Sullivan’s greatest hits; many are as felicitously chosen as “Things Are Seldom What They Seem,” sung by a disguised Holmes, though there’s the occasional clunker (D’Oyly Carte’s revised “Love Unrequited,” originally from Iolanthe, stops the action cold). Musical director Larry Vote has orchestra and singers well in hand; ensembles are tightly sung, and if the occasional soprano solo seems rather too quavery, there’s a tenor like Doug Bowles (standing in for Tim Augustin) to sing a golden “Is There Not One Maiden Breast.”
On the subject of understudies: Several weeks ago, I saw Fred Grandy rehearsing the central role of D’Oyly Carte, and on that evidence, I’ll wager he’s a stitch in performance, but I can’t see how he could be any funnier than David Hilder, who stood in on Aug. 2 and will perform again at the Aug. 30 matinee.
Hilder is tall and thin, with a sharp profile that lends itself to playing the prig or the elegant autocrat; here, he’s by turns disdainful, pompous, and outraged, looking for all the world like a particularly aggrieved stork as curtain time approaches for his imperiled premiere. He never cracks a smile, not even when choreographer Linda Garner Miller insists that he skipwhich he somehow does from the waist down, without lowering his arched eyebrow or allowing his brilliantined head to bob. It’s an absolute scream.CP