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‘Hair’ set to rock Short North Stage 50 years after its Broadway premiere

The Short North Stage will present “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” from April 5 to 29 at the company’s Garden Theater. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Lingnofsky

As a new age of protests sweeps the country, a Columbus theater company brings the protest musical “Hair” back to life 50 years after it debuted on Broadway.

The Short North Stage will present “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” from Thursday to April 29 at the company’s Garden Theater.

Tim Valentine, executive director of the Short North Stage, said the musical was originally written to stand up against the Vietnam War and defend human rights.

“So that’s related to our protest culture of today because in addition to just protesting our president, there’s a lot of protests in the United States today, and so that’s very relevant with this show,” he said.

One of two current Ohio State students involved in the show, Jordan Shafer, a third-year in music education, said the message of the show is about accepting and loving others as they are, regardless of differences.

“It doesn’t matter your size, your race, your age, anything,” she said. “It’s having this sense of community and unity. I think it’s important today with a lot of the issues going on with the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter and especially with the police brutality stuff going on. A lot of the show is about protesting.”

The musical “Hair” follows a group of people living unconventional lives in New York City during the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s. With their long hair and sexually free attitudes, their very lives are an act of protest against the traditional values of their families and society. Popular songs from the show that topped the pop charts at the time include “Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In.”

For the Short North Stage’s production, the set was transformed to look like the inside of an abandoned adult movie theater that the musical’s cast of characters — referred to as a “tribe” in the show — take over and live in, Valentine said.

He said the Garden Theater used to be an adult movie theater; so as a nod to the theater’s history, the company decided such a set was an appropriate space for a “hippie commune.”

“So it’s a tribe of people who took over the theater who are standing up and fighting to be heard and be seen,” Valentine said. “So the relevance of this show is extreme in the current times, showing that young people can make a difference, can stand up for themselves, can stand up for right and wrong.”

Valentine noted that, as an extension of the bohemian-style set created for the show, Short North Stage has created what the company calls “tribe” seating in the area directly by the stage. The seats are old couches and chairs that give the appearance that they were pulled off the street by the characters in the show who are living in the theater.

Also similar to many Short North Stage productions, Ohio State will be represented by the cast and crew. Valentine graduated in 2008 from the higher education and student affairs graduate program and became the Short North Stage’s first executive director in January.

In addition to Valentine and Shafer, five other Ohio State alumni and students are directly involved with the production.

“We have four [alumni] who are actors and one alum who is the musical director,” he said. “They get to interact and learn from regional actors who have come across from all of the United States.”

Two actors from New York City and a handful from Cincinnati, Dayton, and Pittsburgh will perform in the production.

Shafer said she has enjoyed working with the other actors.

“[‘Hair’] shows a great sense of community and reaching out to and being connected to people you wouldn’t normally talk to because the tribe is characters from different backgrounds and all coming together to form this family that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “And I know I found a family of friends at OSU that I wouldn’t have found if we didn’t all go to OSU together.”

The company’s final performance on April 29 will mark the exact date the musical opened on Broadway 50 years earlier in 1968.

“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” will be performed from Thursday to April 29 at the Short North Stage’s Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St. Tickets are $20 to $44 for the general public. Students receive an $8 discount using the code “STUDENT” at www.shortnorthstage.org.

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