It is certainly ironic that at opening night of “Age of Aquarius: The Music of Hair,” I saw more bare bottoms — of faces — than I have seen in person since the pandemic shut down the world. The Duluth Playhouse’s second mini-season offering at the NorShor Theatre saw more audience members wearing tie-dyed shirts than wearing masks.
When “Hair” exploded on Broadway, several songs from the show were at the top of the pop charts. When “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” was No. 1 for The 5th Dimension, “Good Morning Sunshine” was No. 3 for Oliver. Three Dog Night hit No. 4 with “Easy to Be Hard,” and the Cowsills made it to No. 2 with their sanitized version of “Hair.”
Consequently, “Hair” in concert has a big advantage over any non-jukebox musical you can name. Five singers delivered on the familiar songs and several times captured the spirit and power of the show itself.
After Quinn Lorez leads the Company in the opening “Aquarius,” the first third of the show has a bunch of songs I usually forget are in “Hair.” (Several songs I do remember would just not be appropriate for this concert version.) Moments that stood out were Brandon A. Jackson finishing off “Dead End” with a big note and Haley Methner’s “Frank Mills” making us smile.
Then the Company came out and delivered an electric “Ain’t Got No Grass” that reminded us “Hair” is an extremely powerful piece of political theater. Lorez drove the message home with “Air,” and director Phillip Fazio turned “Initials: L.B.J.” into a solo piece for Methner, who provided lots of funny operatic flourishes.
The wigged-out pair of Shad Olsen and Andy Roemhildt got the big hippie moments, both individually, with “I Got Life” and “Going Down” respectively, but especially with their duets “Hippie Life” and “Hair.”
The title song was one number where I would have liked to have seen everybody — including pit singers Lauren Burton, Sara Marie Sorenson and Patrick Timmons — on stage. These playhouse concerts really make me miss production numbers with a dozen performers dancing on stage.
Jackson slowed down the tempo of “Easy to Be Hard” a bit so he could really drive home the lyrics. Lorez delivered a lyrical “Good Morning Starshine” while Olson had his best moment with “Where Do I Go.” The audience clearly responded to these familiar songs.
The best moment was at the end with “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).” When Jackson did the first verse and Olsen did the poignant “Manchester, England” reprise, I was immediately in what that moment means in the show. (I cannot hear that song without seeing Claude’s gravestone in my mind.)
Where Methner and Lorez join Jackson on the power harmony is my absolute favorite musical moment in the show, and the trio totally nailed it. By the time everybody was on stage doing the a cappella chorus, I was having the same emotional reaction I would have had if I were watching an actual production of “Hair.”
I got my money’s worth.
If you go
What: “Age of Aquarius: The Music of Hair”
When: 7:30 p.m. June 5, 11-12 and 2 p.m. June 13 only
Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $30-$35. Call 218-733-7555 or duluthplayhouse.org/main-stage
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.