ELEVATED | The Play’s the Thing
by Leslie Vreeland
Mar 07, 2013 | 1096 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
‘BUS STOP’ – Bob Allyn (left), Kayla Needham and Niko Nelson in a scene from the play by William Inge at Magic Circle Theatre. It opens this Friday. (Courtesy photo)
‘BUS STOP’ – Bob Allyn (left), Kayla Needham and Niko Nelson in a scene from the play by William Inge at Magic Circle Theatre. It opens this Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Telluride Town Musical: Hair

If you’ve never seen Hair on stage or film, you’re undoubtedly familiar with its songs. The musical produced a slew of them. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and the title song, a major hit for the bubblegum-pop group The Cowsills  – they’re all from Hair. The musical was conceived by actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who took their inspiration from their lives in New York with their friends in the 1960s. “We knew this group of kids in the East Village who were dropping out and dodging the draft, and there were also lots of articles in the press about how kids were being kicked out of school for growing their hair long,” Rado said in a Los Angeles Times interview. “There was so much excitement in the streets and the parks and the hippie areas, and we thought if we could transmit this to the stage it would be wonderful. We hung out with them and went to their Be-Ins and let our hair grow.” Along the way, they prepared a script. A friend introduced them to Canadian composer Galt MacDermot, who had never even heard of a hippie (“I had short hair, a wife, and, at that point, four children, and I lived on Staten Island,” he recalled). But MacDermot was keen to write a rock musical, and in 1969, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical made its debut on the Broadway stage.

Sasha Sullivan, who picked Hair as this year’s town musical, is taking her cue from the word “tribal” in the musical’s title. “Hair’s been my favorite musical since I was a kid. I’d listen to the record with my Mom more times than I can remember,” she said. That’s why she chose the play – plus, she wanted to stage a larger musical than last year. “I wanted more people to get a chance onstage,” she said. But more and more, she said, she is coming to realize that Hair “is a Telluride play. The characters in the play are a tribe who live outside societal norms. They think out of the box, and live the way they want – and most people in Telluride do that.” Sure, Sullivan added, “there’s the peace-and-love stuff” in Hair. But “It’s also got an anti-war message and an environmental theme. It speaks to our town.” Hair has played all over the world since its theatrical debut over 40 years ago; instead of seeming dated, it has seemed to pick up steam. As Time magazine wrote of a recent revival at New York’s Public Theatre, “Today, Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.” The play is very special, Sullivan said: “It’s a classic psychedelic rock musical.” A classic musical, that is, complete with a nude scene (optional for the cast, who wanted to do it in the buff), rough language and implied drug use, which makes it off-limits to kids under 18 unless accompanied by their parents. So, extremely young audience members are probably out. But young adults are a different story. “For me, it’s about the new generation,” Sullivan said. “They need to see this play.” Hair plays Tues.-Sun. (Mar. 12-Mar. 17) at the Palm. To purchase tickets ($20), call 970/708-3934.  

In Montrose: Bus Stop

Just as Sasha Sullivan was raised listening to the soundtrack of Hair as she was growing up, Sandy Lundberg caught every production of Bus Stop she could. As an adult, Lundberg also acted in it. “The part of [nightclub singer] Cherie is very close to my heart,” she said.

Now she’s directing Bus Stop. Beginning this Friday, Mar. 8, the Magic Circle Players of Montrose will stage William Inge’s 1955 play about a short-order restaurant in a small town west of Kansas City, and what happens there one night when a snowstorm forces five people off a broken-down bus. Bus Stop  “is not really a full-on comedy, and it’s also not a drama,” Lundberg said. “It’s sort of a love story, a light-hearted play” about the relationships that develop over the course of the evening between Grace Hoylard, who owns the restaurant, and Carl, the bus driver she shares a casual more-than-friendship with; nightclub singer Cherie, and Bo, the boorish young ranch hand who desires her; Dr. Gerald Lyman, an intellectual college professor who fancies the impressionable, high-school-aged waitress Elma; and others. Bus Stop may be lighthearted, but its characterizations aren’t simple. “It’s a coming-of-age story for one,” Lundberg said. For another character, the evening will bring “a realization of mortality.” Lundberg first directed Bus Stop at Magic Circle in 1994, and felt it was time to return to it. She was surprised by what she found. “The most interesting thing is, it’s the same show, the same production, the same lines,” she said. “But with a whole new cast, it’s a whole new play.” Theatre critic Harold Clurman, the first to direct Bus Stop (the play debuted on Broadway in 1955), would undoubtedly agree. When an actor fully inhabits a role, Clurman believed, a play takes on new life. The actor gets inspired, too. “He demanded ME in the role,” the actress Uta Hagen once said of Clurman. “My love of acting was slowing reawakened as I began to deal with a strange new technique of evolving a character. I was not allowed to begin with, or concern myself at any time with, a preconceived form. I was assured that a form would result from the work we were doing.” Bus Stop plays weekends through March 23. Tickets are available at the box office, or by calling 970/249-7838.

Pirates of Penzance in Grand Junction

Up the road in Grand Junction at Colorado Mesa University, director Jack Delmore is taking his second turn with a play, as well: Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic comedic operetta, Pirates of Penzance. And, just like Magic Circle Theatre’s Sandy Lundberg, Delmore first helmed that production in 1994.

Pirates “was the first show I ever directed at Mesa State [as CMU was then called],” Delmore said. He’s working with the same set designer and choreographer this time around, as well. Still, the new production is very different. “We have a lot more years under our collective belts,” he said. “This time, it’s a lot more sophisticated and has a lot more action.” The performances better, too. The students are “all triple threats,” he said: singing, dancing and acting majors, “more experienced and talented” than the performers of 1994, not all of whom happened to be majoring in what they were doing onstage.

Of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Pirates has got the best melodies. “These are very catchy tunes,” Delmore said. It’s also got stinging humor. The musical “pokes fun at upper-class people who should know better, but break the law anyway. Of course, we see the same sorts of naughty behavior today: people don’t mind stashing money in offshore bank accounts, for example, while they pontificate about taxes and the poor.” Pirates will be performed nightly through Sat., Mar. 9 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call 970/248-1604. 

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