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THEATER REVIEW: “Hair" is a "happening more than an artistic triumph"

Those ’60s flower children are back with the patched jeans, long stringy hair and even a little tie-dye. Appropriately, though, you’ll have to thread your way through a group of 21st-century anti-establishment “hippies” in Civic Theatre Plaza to get to them.

Broadway San Diego presents the touring company of the 1967 musical “Hair” to Civic Theatre through Sunday. It’s outside the theater that Occupy San Diego protesters have taken up residence, and if you go out at intermission, you’ll hear their version of “Aquarius” or some other song from “Hair.”

On opening night, a mostly gray-haired audience was happily and noisily transported to those kinder, gentler, pre-terrorist days of free love, the haze of a reefer high and political protests centered on one of this country’s most hated wars.

My, how things have changed – and remained the same. We’re still protesting wars (and seemingly getting into them willy-nilly), but we’ve added other targets. And the clothes have changed.

Director Diane Paulus makes this scripted show feel like it’s happening spontaneously outdoors in a large park by having cast members periodically climb over seats to shake hands with theatergoers, or sing from the aisles or – at the end – pull volunteers onstage to dance with the cast.

It’s a happening more than an artistic triumph, but the crowd loved the 30-some songs by Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the free-form dance (that looked but was not ad-libbed) and the light show designed by Kevin Adams. And yes, they take off their clothes, though today that seems more sweet than scandalous.

“Hair” is more revue than play – there are lots of songs, and the only thing resembling a plot revolves around the receipt of a draft notice by Claude Hooper Bukowski (Paris Remillard) and the decision that requires.

But the cast is sprightly and fine: Remillard’s conflicted Claude plays well off raucous roommate Berger (Steel Burkhardt), a fine baritone who spends much of the first act in a fringed leather thong. The third roomie is activist Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett), in love with Berger.

Young Jeanie (Aleque Reid) is pregnant and crazy about Claude, but the father of her child is “some crazy speed freak.”

Phyre Hawkins has an impressive stage presence and a great voice as Dionne; Hud (Darius Nichols) is terrific on “Yes, I’s Finished On Y’all’s Farmlands;” and Kaitlin Kiyan is charming when she sings about “Frank Mills.”

Allison Guinn is a hoot as Claude’s mom and shows a fine voice as a Buddha stand-in. Josh Lamon is fine as Claude’s dad and a scream as a tourist whom the tribe dubs Margaret Mead (who sings “Conviction”).

The problem with “Hair” hasn’t changed since the ’60s: the orchestration is such that many of the words get lost, so if you’re not of flower child age (in which case they’re locked in your DNA), look up those lyrics online first.

“Hair” isn’t really a great musical, but it is a great cultural artifact that everyone should see at least once.

The details

“Hair” plays through Sunday, Oct. 23, at San Diego Civic Theatre, Third and B Street, downtown.

Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm.

For tickets call (619) 570-1100 or Ticketmaster (800) 982-2787.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.