Metro Weekly

Signature’s ‘Hair’ Is An Inspired, Vibrant Masterpiece (Review)

Rife with sensuality, song, and message, Signature's "Hair" is performed by an ensemble nothing short of glorious.

Some things that don’t happen exactly when you want them to still happen right on time. Five years ago, Signature Theatre’s planned production of Hair was destined to be the company’s blockbuster show of the Spring 2020 season. Then, the spring of 2020 actually happened, to all of us, and destiny was rewritten.

Theaters sat dim, while protests against racial injustice erupted in the streets, and a new generation of American kids experienced and witnessed the power of a social uprising.

Now, Signature’s Hair is finally here, just as another youth-led uprising is taking hold, with student protesters occupying campuses across the nation to voice their opposition or support for U.S. involvement in the Israel-Hamas War. And the time feels right to consider the show’s portrayal of youthful rebellion against an establishment that preaches morality but doesn’t consistently practice it.

Watching this Hair, staged brilliantly by Signature artistic director Matthew Gardiner, it’s impossible not to connect the generations then and now whose voices are often blithely dismissed by the powers that would sell or bomb away their collective future.

The establishment class might argue the hippies are uninvested. As the loving tribe sings proudly, they “ain’t got no money,” no home, no faith, no job, no ticket. But then, as Claude, embodied with ample charisma and profound humility by Jordan Dobson, points out, “I got life, mother.” And that has value.

Neither Claude nor any of his brothers in love — including Berger (Mason Reeves), Hud (Solomon Parker III), and Woof (Noah Israel) — wants to give their one precious life for a war they deem unjust, on behalf of a nation that disproportionately feeds its appetite for war with the bodies of Black and brown boys.

Yet the prospect of being shipped off to fight in Vietnam hangs balefully over Claude, as he and his hippie family express their worldview of peace, love, and freedom across two acts.

Having turned Signature’s MAX Theatre into a trippy hippie hideaway on a two-sided stage, Gardiner draws the audience inside the tribe’s space, and often sends the cast out into the house to make even closer connections.

Scenic designer Paige Hathaway has adorned the walls in ’60s-era photos, signs, and posters centered around a disc that beams like the sun, or serves as a screen for projections. The disparate elements — like a stairway railing that’s also a ray of light beaming from the sun — are beautifully integrated into one visually pleasing picture.

The lighting design by Jason Lyons — taking smart advantage of the opportunity Hair provides to go big with atmospheric, psychedelic hues and patterns — completes the picture, adding to the emotion evoked by Galt MacDermot’s glorious music, and Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s book and lyrics.

The songs are as groovy as ever, with Angie Benson leading the 9-piece orchestra through a rocking take on the score. Personally, I’ve heard the show sung better, although, individually, certain cast members enjoy breakout solo moments, like Dobson’s sweet vibrato on Claude’s “Where Do I Go,” or Olivia Puckett, as second-semester student protester Sheila, singing a gorgeously clear-voiced “Easy to Be Hard.”

And Nolan Montgomery puts on a mini show-within-the-show performing in drag to deliver Margaret Mead’s amusing pro-hippie “My Conviction.” Alex De Bard, in the ensemble role of Emmaretta, has several choice moments in song, particularly her brassy yet graceful flourishes in “Be In (Hare Krishna).”

But truly this cast shines in the rollicking group numbers, like a fantastically energized “I Got Life,” when their voices come together in lush harmonies, and the full ensemble is in motion, dancing Ashleigh King’s sensual, pulsating choreography. The dancing is as powerfully urgent as the acting and singing in giving life to these rebels, their culture, and their concerns.

Gardiner’s production clearly delineates the point that, whether they’ve got money or property or not, these kids whose futures are at stake deserve a say in how the world moves forward. And probably the world should do even more to consider the point of view of those not beholden to financial or political interests.

The antiwar hippies in Hair are waging battles on different ideological grounds than the protesters today, or in 2020, or the Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011, but, similarly, they’re demanding to be heard and respected. They’re shouting “Peace now! Freedom now!” and burning their draft cards in a barrel for themselves and for the generations of young resistors yet to come.

Hair (★★★★☆) runs through July 7 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., in Arlington, Va., with a Pride Night performance on June 7. Tickets are $40 to $128. Call 703-820-9771, or visit

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