I've never enjoyed live theatre more than Enlightened Theatrics' production of Hair my wife and I saw last night at Salem's Grand Theatre.
And that isn't the cannabis talking.
Well, let's make that it isn't just the cannabis talking. Hey, it seemed oh-so-appropriate to celebrate a paean to 60's hippiedom with some of Oregon's newly-legal recreational marijuana.
Which, in a non-roundabout way, brings me to the Numero Uno reason I felt so good during and after this marvelous production of Hair:
The talented directors and performers made me realize The '60s are still real.
Meaning, it isn't only that the hippies of the '60s laid the foundation for important social changes that are manifest today, which I've always felt was true. What this interpretation of Hair showed me was something more: the spirit of the '60s itself is alive and well at this very moment.
I wasn't aware of this realization until I woke up in the middle of the night after going to sleep while recollecting the show I'd seen a few hours before. Almost instantly that The '60s are still real intuition popped into my semi-awake brain.
After every other production of Hair that I've seen, and I've seen a lot, I'd think "Ah, those were the days." Last night, though, the feeling was "Ah, these are the days."
Hair is set in 1968. I was 20 years old then, a student at San Jose State College in the Bay Area, a fairly short stone's throw (as well as stoned drive) from San Francisco and Berkeley. So the vibe of Hair is part of my mental DNA.
We hippies of the '60s thought Flower Power was going to change the world. The Revolution wasn't going to stop with us; it would continue through the efforts of other young people.
I remember thinking after graduating in 1971, "I always want to live around a college, so I can stay in touch with the radical youth movement, never becoming part of straight society that's content with how things are." Well, that didn't come to pass.
Marriage. Child. Job. House in Salem. It wasn't long before I had become the person I'd vowed I wouldn't be. I stopped using alcohol and drugs. Became a vegetarian. Meditated for an hour or two each day.
Yes, I was still trying to change myself and the world. But the energy, the spirit, the intensity of the '60s faded away. I figured that those Hair-era years were a marvelous one-time occurrence in the history of the cosmos.
Watching Hair last night dispelled that misconception.
What I saw, thanks to the hugely talented performers and directors, was a production which felt very 2015, not 1968. I was struck the most by fluid gender roles that spoke to the great changes in attitudes, and the law, regarding same-sex relationships.
My memory of the '60s (keeping in mind the adage "if you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there") is that we hippies were liberated in many ways -- drugs, sex, music, politics -- but not really in our attitudes toward homosexuality, much less other non-traditional varieties of human sexual orientation.
My recollection of previous Hair performances I've seen bears this out. Yes, there was some guy-guy, gal-gal dancing and other interactions, but not nearly to the pleasingly gender-bending extent of Enlightened Theatrics' Hair production.
After the show began I'd think, "That woman is a great dancer." A few minutes later I'd change the thought to, "No, wait, that's a man... probably." By intermission I was into a more fluid mind-blown state of "That person is a great dancer."
For me, this gave Hair a very different feel.
The comparative sexual rigidity, so to speak, of other productions I'd seen gave way to a much more free-flowing vibe. Guys getting it on with guys, gals with gals, guys with gals, gals with guys. It's all one, dude... As noted before, this was somewhat in evidence back in my hippie days, but this was way before the gay rights movement had really taken hold.
Today same-sex marriage is legal everywhere in the United States. Archaic attitudes toward the LGBT community are still very much in evidence, sadly. Happily, this is temporary. Young people are much more accepting of diversity in sexual orientation. Hidebound old folks are dying off.
So as I watched the youthful energy of the Hair performers, I felt really good about the future. Of the world. Of this country. Of Salem.
The '60s weren't about a particular generation, my cadre of baby boomers. That marvelous decade was just one manifestation of a steady trend in human culture toward more acceptance of diversity, increasing creativity, fuller support of individual freedom.
Yes, there are rises and falls along this generally upward trend line. I sort of alluded to that when I saw the Producing Artistic Director of this Hair production, Vincenzo Meduri, standing in front of the stage during intermission.
I couldn't resist going up to him to say how much I was enjoying the show. Which led to more enthusiastic blabbing on my part about how I felt he and the other Enlightened Theatrics folks were changing Salem for the better, energizing downtown and bringing new life to Oregon's overly staid capital city.
"I've lived here for 38 years," I told Meduri.
"So many times I've been hopeful that Salem, and particularly downtown, were turning the corner on becoming the diverse, creative, energetic city we have the potential to be, yet we never seem to get there. You guys are giving me new hope. I think you're going to be a really positive force for creative change in Salem."
Meduri reached out to give me a hug after I'd said my piece. That felt good.
As did the hand extended by a cast member in the finale of Hair, where some audience members go up on stage to dance. I'd been sitting in my Row D aisle seat, watching other people in the audience join the cast, torn between a desire to jump up myself and ridiculous thoughts like Maybe there already are too many people on stage; it can't fit any more.
It just took that outstretched hand to change my mind to Yes, Yes, Yes, the message of one of my Strange Up Salem columns that I obviously don't take to heart as much as I should. A small gesture. A happy result.
Because I enjoyed swaying back and forth with the cast member and dancing in my own old-guy fashion with others on stage. A female performer said "thank you" to me. I can't remember if I said "I'm the thankful one, for all of you Enlightened Theatrics folks," but I sure felt that way.
Bottom line: go see Hair while you can.
I highly recommended the show to someone today, saying "It will change your life." That isn't an exaggeration. I've run out of words, so won't dwell on how marvelous the acting, dancing, and music is. Believe me, it's like having a Broadway show manifest in Salem, but without the sky-high ticket price.
Read a couple of stories in the current issue of Salem Weekly if you have any doubts about seeing Hair. Here's an excerpt from "Hair in Salem; it's different this time."
Enlightened Theatrics mission includes its support of both local and national talent, which meant the team accepted video audition submissions from all over the country. “For three or four of them,” Meduri says, “this is their first show, and they’re really rising to the occasion. You can’t tell them from the seasoned pros.”
Of the final cast of 21 people, 15 came from out of state; four are from Salem and two from Portland.
The energetic newcomers are joining Wockenfuss, in Salem for the first time herself. “It’s refreshing how open it is here,” she says. “Everyone I’ve met in town is so enthusiastic about this project and I’m excited to be here for the biggest production Enlightened Theatrics has done to date.”
And here's part of a review, "Enlightened's Hair brings down the house."
The current production of HAIR at Enlightened Theatrics is one of the best musicals I have seen, my favorite piece at Enlightened so far, and a gem in Salem’s theatrical scene. It is simply excellent theatre across the board. Expertly directed by Vincenzo Meduri and choreographed by Jessica Wockenfuss, the staging is fast, smooth, energetic, and visually stimulating.
As in previous Enlightened Theatrics productions, director/producer Meduri has assembled a team of professional talent from around the country. The vocal talent is outstanding; the rendition of the title song brought down the house. It is difficult to single-out any one performer from this fine cast, but I will say that male leads Drew Shafranek (Claude) and Jake Bivens (Berger) are charismatic, powerful, and beautiful enough that I could I can easily see them as leaders of a real-life commune (or a cult).