Celebrating the ’60s: Monmouth Theater Students ‘Let the Sunshine In’

November 16, 2017
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By Mary Ann Bourbeau |

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University’s department of music and theater arts is staging the rock musical “Hair” in honor of the show’s 50th anniversary. “Hair” will run Nov. 10-19 at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre.

The story explores youth in the changing culture of the 1960s, with an emphasis on flower children, the hippie culture, free love and the anti-war movement. As they question authority and society, they yearn to change the world and begin by changing themselves. The men grow their hair long, they get high and try to live by the philosophy of peace and love.

“I have always loved this production,” said Sheri Anderson, a professor in the department of music who is directing “Hair.” “Our country is grappling with many of the same issues today. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, people are voicing their frustration, anxiety and confusion and they feel disenfranchised.”

Monmouth University students are bringing the audience back to the ’60s with a production of the Broadway classic “Hair.” – Courtesy Monmouth University

“Hair” opened off-Broadway in 1967 and moved to Broadway the following year, celebrating the hippie counterculture and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The score produced a number of hits, including “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Easy to be Hard” and “Let the Sunshine In.”

“The songs drive it in a way that gives voice to a generation that in 1967 and 1968 were not represented on Broadway,” said Anderson.

“Hair” was adapted into a film in 1979 with a hit soundtrack, and had a revival on Broadway in 2009. Anderson wanted to mark the anniversary of the Summer of Love. This past summer, Shadowlawn Stage, the professional equity theater at Monmouth University, produced “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which also premiered in 1967.

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“I thought ‘Hair’ would be better in the hands of the students,” Anderson said. “They feel many of the same emotions today, under different circumstances. I wanted to give them a voice, an outlet. I wasn’t sure if the whole experience was too distant for them, but you’d be surprised at how much the kids relate to the story.”

“Hair” was very controversial at the time with its liberal use of racial epithets and profanity. Anderson had many table talks with the cast, discussing how the show’s original language represented a time and place in our history. She encouraged the actors to speak up if they were uncomfortable with any aspects of the dialogue and stressed that no one would be forced to use language they didn’t want to.

“We all felt it was important to keep all of the taboo images and language in the show,” she said. “We discussed how it’s not really us saying those words. If a student was outside their comfort zone, we allowed them to sit out that number. For students willing to take the journey and the leap, we want it to be a joyous celebration.”

One thing that did change is that the nude scene was omitted, but Anderson said it’s not because the show is a student production.

“It’s more about how we deal with nudity today,” she said. “It doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it did in 1967. Back then, being naked was not about being titillating or shocking, it was about being truly vulnerable. Now because of the selfie culture and people like the Kardashians, it doesn’t mean the same thing.”

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The show boasts a live orchestra led by George Wurzbach. Choreography is by Janine Molinari and scenic design is by John Holler.

“Janine pushes boundaries with her choreography and John’s set is absolutely brilliant,” said Anderson. “I did a Google search of psychedelic images and showed him the Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’ video. He came in within a week with the most amazing design I’ve seen in many years. It was truly inspired on a level that I don’t think I’ve ever seen with a design student.”

Among the cast of 28 is Michael Grant, who plays Claude; Tim DiDomenico, who portrays Berger and Amanda McTigue, who plays Sheila. It’s one of the largest casts Anderson has directed in her 13 years at Monmouth University.

“I’m so proud of the journey these students have had,” she said. “Even if you’re not familiar with the hippie culture, it’s worth coming to this show to see the students share their enthusiasm.”

The show is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors. The Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University is located at 400 Cedar Ave., West Long Branch. For more information, visit www.monmouth.edu/mca.

Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article was first published in the Nov. 9-16, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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