Hair (2008)

Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Sept. 11-Oct. 18, 2008
Washington University South Campus Theatre
Show Webpage
Production Photos

THE CAST
George Berger – John Sparger
Claude Bukowski – Todd Schaefer
Sheila Franklin – Ryan Ferris-Hanson
Woof – Aaron Lawson
Hud – Khnemu Menu-Ra
Jeanie – Robin Michelle Berger
The Tourists – Zachary Allen Farmer, Todd Micali
The Tribe – Robin Michelle Berger, Wayne Easter, Zachary Allen Farmer, Ryan Ferris-Hanson, Nikki Glenn, Rachel Hanks, Aaron Lawson, Terry Love, Khnemu Menu-Ra, Todd Micali, Talichia Noah, Todd Schaefer, John Sparger, Marcy Wiegert

THE ARTISTIC STAFF
Director – Scott Miller
Stage Manager – Trisha Bakula
Lighting Designer – Kenneth Zinkl
Set Designer – Todd Schaefer
Costume Designer – Thom Crain
Sound Designer – Matthew J. Koch
Set Painters – The Osage Tribe
Props Master – Vicki Herrmann
Lighting Technician – Trisha Bakula
House Manager – Ann Stinebaker
Box Office Manager – Vicki Herrmann
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Jill Ritter

THE BAND
Piano/Conductor – Chris Petersen
Bass – Dave Hall
Trumpet – Cliff Phillips
Lead Guitar – Mike Renard
Rhythm Guitar – Justin Schulz
Percussion – Mike Schurk

THE REVIEWS
“This is New Line’s third production of Hair in less than ten years, and you know why from the moment you smell the incense. Director Scott Miller has a wonderful feeling for this material; his production delivers the hippie world with sensual precision. It comes through in the exotic aroma, in the eye-popping set designed by Todd Schaefer, in the era-exact costumes by Thom Crain and the dreamy sound of Chris Petersen’s six-man rock band. Most of all, it comes through in the cast, an ensemble known as the Tribe.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Hair at New Line Theatre is unexpectedly, beautifully, joyfully, mournfully, tragically relevant again. Gerome Ragni and James Rado have turned out to be poet-prophets and their book and lyrics are given life by Galt MacDermot’s eclectic rock score. . . I’m happy that New Line chose to produce Hair because I’d never seen it live; I am sorry that it can’t just be a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the show but that it still has so much relevance. See it to celebrate, to mourn, and finally to celebrate again for there is hope and light and no matter how hard ‘they’ try, they cannot ‘end this beauty’.” – Andrea Braun, PlaybackSTL

“Here we are in a similar, but I would say even darker place – at least America still had Posse Comitaus and Glass-Steagall back in 1968. Hair shows us, forty years later, both where the hippies went wrong and where they were right on. And that to abandon the project of striving for equality and justice (even if it doesn’t involve spliffs and paisley) would damn us to our own Greek tragedy. I can’t tell you exactly what happened when the Osage Tribe gathered on stage to sing ‘Let The Sun Shine In,’ but it felt an awful lot like the Holy Ghost, or someone like him, was in the house.” – Stefene Russell, St. Louis Magazine

“Scott Miller knows this material well, and his skilled direction keeps the action flowing and the actors focused. The tribe is well cast, and seem completely comfortable with one another. And they make a marvelous sound harmonizing together on this catchy score. Thom Crain’s costumes add a nice air of authenticity. Chris Peterson’s work on piano and conducting the small ensemble is impeccable. The band provides a solid pulse to this electrified revival meeting.” – Chris Gibson, KDHX-FM

Hair is not so much a musical as it is an invocation, a sort of vision quest designed to shake you out of your torpor and make you think. Let’s describe it as ‘a group of people with strange clothes and a shared faith in nebulous concepts who make strange proclamations about society’s ills’ – are we describing hippies, the religious right, the secular left or the military’s press conferences on the war in Iraq? Regardless of what you think you are, Hair challenges your perceptions. A kaleidoscopic, mandala-esque painting on the stage provides a locus for the characters to dance and sing and poke fun at the world outside the theater. And there is a lot of fun” – Paul Friswold, The Riverfront Times

“Much smoke is blown, and much adolescent naughtiness is waved like a banner. But just to see the glowing idealism on the faces of fine actors like Khnemu Menu-Ra, Aaron Lawson and others is somehow astonishing in this age of bitter disappointment and gloom, and to hear the folksy and dramatic songs of Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot raised so beautifully is a great pleasure. . . . For the generation of psychedelic awakening and sexual revolution, this lock of Hair is a sentimental touchstone and a heart-warming bit of modern Americana.” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway.com

DIRECTOR'S NOTES
It’s 1968. Or maybe it’s 2008. America is in turmoil. The White House routinely lies to Americans, the CIA and FBI are secretly but consciously ignoring the laws that govern them, and many people worry about the state of our democracy. The country is divided over an unpopular war half a world away, which we’re continuously told we’re winning. They repeatedly tell us they have the enemy “on the run” and that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.” There are anti-war protests and demonstrations across the nation and on college campuses.

On the warfront, the Department of Defense keeps changing the rules on our military personnel, extending tours and requiring additional tours. They started the conflict with too few forces but have been adding troops without a real end in sight. What does winning mean? When can we leave? Is it even possible to leave behind a functioning democracy? And the Russians invade one of their neighboring countries.

Our national cynicism grows and political satire finds new popularity on television. Many pop music artists and filmmakers also turn their artistic attentions to politics and social issues. The President is extremely unpopular but is not up for reelection. The Democratic presidential primary essentially boils down to the anti-war candidate versus the hawk. The Republicans nominate a candidate that the party’s base does not trust. But most surprising of all, with all this unrest and cynicism comes a renewed faith in the average person’s ability to change our country through the political process. Young people, now a significant voting block, are wildly energized about the election and they line up enthusiastically behind an unlikely presidential candidate, a young, handsome, charismatic Democrat trumpeting a new kind of politics, who is rumored to have taken illegal drugs in his youth. But because of what he represents, some fear for the candidate’s life.

American Catholics are at odds with the Pope over birth control and other social issues. Organized religion in general is experiencing a decline in popularity, as many American turn to alternative philosophies and spiritualities, especially those from Eastern cultures. And there is a growing movement to legalize marijuana.

Many of America’s bigger cities are still largely segregated, despite well-meaning legislation. Race re-takes center stage, as racial violence continues and gun sales skyrocket. White America is repeatedly shocked by sentiments and movements in the black community that have been there for years, apparently invisible to the mainstream. In other words, white people find out what black people talk about when the white folks aren’t there…

Arthur Schlesinger writes in Esquire, “At periodic moments in our history, our country has paused on the threshold of a new epoch in our national life, unable for a moment to open the door, but aware that it must advance if it is to preserve its national vitality and identity. One feels that we are approaching such a moment now.”

High Fidelity (2008)

the American Regional Premiere
Music by Tom Kitt Lyrics by Amanda Green
Book by David Linsday-Abaire
based on the novel by Nick Horbny
June 12-July 5, 2008
A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, St. Louis
http://www.newlinetheatre.com/hifipage.html

THE CAST
Rob – Jeffrey M. Wright
Laura – Kimi Short
Dick – Aaron Lawson
Barry – Zachary Allen Farmer
Liz/Jackie – Nikki Glenn
Ian – Robb Kennedy
Anna/Alison – Katie Nestor
Marie LaSalle – Margeau Baue Steinau
TMPMITW/Bruce Springsteen – Todd Micali
Futon Guy/Skid – Patrick Donnigan
Klepto-Boy – Joel Hackbarth
Hipster/Neil Young/Skid – Andrew T. Hampton
Charlie – Mary C. Crouch
Penny – Amanda Densmore
Sarah – Lori White

THE ARTISTIC STAFF
Director – Scott Miller
Choreographer – Robin Michelle Berger
Stage Manager – Trisha Bakula
Lighting Designer – Michael Bergfeld
Set Designer – David Carr
Costume Designer – Amy Kelly
Sound Designer – Steve Massey
Props Master – Vicki Herrmann
Set Construction – John and Suzanne Carr
Lighting Technician – Trisha Bakula
House Manager – Ann Stinebaker
Box Office Manager – Vicki Herrmann
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Michael C. Daft

THE BAND
Piano/Conductor – Chris Petersen
Bass – Dave Hall
Lead Guitar – Mike Renard
Percussion – Mike Schurk
Rhythm Guitar – Jim Shiels
Keyboard – Marc Strathman

THE REVIEWS
“In the spirit of author Nick Hornby, I’m presenting the top five reasons you should go see New Line Theatre’s production of the musical High Fidelity, in reverse order. Number five, because it features catchy songs from composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Amanda Green. Number four, because David Lindsay-Abaire’s script captures the novel’s flavor better than the film adaptation did. Number three, because this is the midwest premiere, and you’ll want to see this in it’s purest form before it gets de-fanged for mass consumption. Number two, because it features a terrific cast, and a crack band. And number one, because New Line has put together an incredibly entertaining show that deserves your attendance.” – Chris Gibson, KDHX-FM

“A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5. Sweet and charming while also faithful to its raw rock roots, New Line’s rendition of High Fidelity soars on the energy of its solid music and consistent comedy. Highlights abound throughout, from the entertaining and pulsating opening number, “The Last Real Record Store on Earth,” to the poignant ballad, “Laura, Laura”. . . New Line’s High Fidelity can be cherished as fondly as Rob’s coveted collection of old 45s. What a rewarding sound it is.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“The stars are in perfect alignment for the regional premiere of Tom Kitt and Amanda Green’s musical, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Director Scott Miller has put together a fine cast of actors and singers (in an interesting new venue), to stage the lives of young men in a used record shop, and the women who love them. Individually, and in delightful groups, they blaze through a series of power ballads, make-up songs, break-up songs and more, covering musical idioms from the soulful sixties to the acrid eighties. . . Critics of the recent movie and the subsequent Broadway musical seemed to seize upon the mere quirkiness of these slacker-esthetes, adrift in a sea of post-adolescent angst, as the main thrust of the evening. But the intimate confines of the Hotchner studio theater at Washington University serve them well, helping us focus on small tragedies and moderate evils, raising them to a grander scale. A bigger stage, or a more dazzling theater would merely wage war on an intimate story like this. Instead, in these pleasant, bare-bones surroundings, High Fidelity finds a perfect setting.” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway.com

“New Line’s version is brimming with joy, the lyrics are sharp and funny, and the music is riddled with in-jokes and references to the actual pop songs that substitute for Rob’s emotional life. It’s a very, very good show. . . New Line Theatre brings the show to a college campus black-box theatre, an ideal reflection of the show’s youthful feel and self-absorbed hero. The tough little coming of age story is now allowed to shine, and it’s very bright indeed. . . The music is sharp and clever, and the New Line Band performs it all quite rockingly. . . The tough little coming of age story is now allowed to shine, and it’s very bright indeed.” – Paul Friswold, The Riverfront Times

BEST SHOW of 2008: “Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, this stylish musical didn’t last long on Broadway, but its first incarnation beyond the Great White Way was a smashing success under the inspired direction of Scott Miller. Superbly capturing the essence of Hornby’s characters, led by music-store-clerk-turned-owner Rob, the energy and passion of Miller’s cast was infectious and immensely appealing. Jeffrey Wright showed us Rob’s vulnerability and sweetness beyond the rock ‘n’ roll sass, and his easy-going musical style delightfully conveyed the show’s triumphant spirit.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News “Theater Year in Review”

High Fidelity started out as a delightful novel by Nick Hornby, then turned into a cute movie starring John Cusack. But it’s not an obvious candidate for the musical stage. That’s because when we think of musicals, we tend to think of flashy extravaganzas. New Line Theatre, however, specializes in small, smart shows instead. Maybe that’s why its production of High Fidelity pays off: The whole thing is built to scale. . . High Fidelity makes for appealing entertainment.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

DIRECTOR'S NOTES
High Fidelity is not a love story. It’s not about two people finding happiness. It’s about one guy growing up.

But it’s also about experiencing music autobiographically, about using music to connect to others, about the way it makes your personal pain somehow transcendent. What better form in which to tell that story than a rock musical? And what better way to construct that score than in the musical vocabulary and language of these guys’ lives? This is an original score that delivers dramatically but is also peppered with musical references to some of the great rock and pop artists of our time, the muscular American sound of Bruce Springsteen, the raw rage of Guns N' Roses, the intellectual playfulness of Talking Heads, the fierce defiance of Aretha Franklin, the smoky groove of Percy Sledge, the driving cynicism of Billy Joel, the naked emotion of Ben Folds. This is a show that uses music as carefully and artfully as it uses dialogue to tell its story, comically, emotionally, often ironically.

But New York wasn’t kind to High Fidelity. Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, “The seeming credo of this production at the Imperial Theater can be found early in its lyrics: ‘Nothin’s great, and nothin’s new, but nothin’ has its worth.’ This declaration is sung by the show’s hero, the romantically bereft Rob, as he describes his uneventful life as the owner of a vinyl record store in Brooklyn. . . And that’s a problem.”

No, the real problem is that Brantley couldn’t see that this lyric reveals the complex central conflict of the story, an entirely interior conflict. It’s not that Rob’s life is uneventful; it’s that his life is too self-involved, too stagnant, and lacking in the joy that comes from a giving, two-way, adult relationship. The “nothing” refers on the surface to Rob’s outer life, but even more to his inner life. He is emotionally empty, running on the fumes of a once satisfying (though arguably immature) relationship. The “nothing” that his and Laura’s relationship has become has the comforts of familiarity and minimal effort, but it can’t sustain them. Rob doesn’t have enough self-knowledge initially to assess his own problem, so we have to read between the lines, as we do routinely with the best plays and movies. Why should that be too much for a musical to ask of its audience – or of its critics?

That High Fidelity’s opening number ends with all the guys singing “I wouldn’t change a thing” tells us exactly what this show is about: the stagnation of a generation. And could there be a more powerful or clearer metaphor than a guy surrounded by used LPs? Rob’s story is the story of millions of people on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Generation X, caught among powerful cultural forces, the expectations of previous generations, and world-shaking changes in technology. This is not a show about nothing. It’s a complex story about some very complicated people, and we think that’s something worth sharing.

We hope you agree.

Assassins (2008)

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr.
March 6-29, 2008
Ivory Theatre, St. Louis
http://www.newlinetheatre.com/assassinspage.html

THE CAST
Lee Harvey Oswald – Aaron Allen
Sam Byck – Brian Claussen
Leon Czolgosz – Christopher “Zany” Clark
Sara Jane Moore – Cindy Duggan
Charles Guiteau – Zachary Allen Farmer
Squeaky Fromme – Amy Kelly
John Wilkes Booth – Matthew Korinko
Giuseppe Zangara – Scott Tripp
John Hinckley – Jeffrey M. Wright
Balladeer, Proprietor – Andrew Keller
Emma Goldman, ensemble – Alison Helmer
David Herold, ensemble – Aaron Lawson
Billy Moore, ensemble – Kimi Short
Bartender, ensemble – John Sparger

THE ARTISTIC STAFF
Director – Scott Miller
Stage Manager – Trisha Bakula
Set Designers – David Carr and Jeffery P. Breckel
Lighting Designer – Stephen J. Moore
Costume Designer – Russell J. Bettlach
Props Master – Vicki Herrmann
Gun Wrangler – Trisha Bakula
House Manager – Ann Stinebaker
Box Office Manager – Vicki Herrmann
Lighting Technician – Trisha Bakula
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Michael C. Daft

THE BAND
Piano/Conductor – Chris Petersen
Bass – Dave Hall
Guitar/Mandolin/Banjo – Mike Renard
Percussion – Mike Schurk
Reeds – Marc Strathman

THE REVIEWS
“[New Line Theatre’s] Assassins is essential theater for people who disdain musicals because they think they’re too pretty, too silly or just dumb. This ugly, serious, very smart production adds up to one of the most challenging theater pieces to play here in ages. . . But underneath all the entertainment lurks a serious question: How did picking up a gun turn into a way to say, ‘Here I am’? And how do we make that change? We have no answers on this stage – just acute questions that deserve to be raised.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“[Director Scott] Miller’s direction is subtle but tight. He moves his players around the stage, and even the auditorium, with grace and authenticity. Russell J. Bettlach’s costumes evoke the eras in which they lived. The assassins remain on stage when they aren’t directly involved in the action. They sit quietly in nine chairs on a simple set surrounded by a few props, including an ominous package that Oswald believes are curtain rods until Booth reveals the rifle beneath the wrappings. The rest of David Carr and Jeffrey P. Breckel’s set is simple with an ingenious, large wooden piece to serve various purposes and three graphics hanging above. Stephen Moore’s lights deserve special mention because they are key to the various moods of madness, elation, fear, and sorrow that this roller coaster of a show evokes. On stage, excellent support is provided for the voices by the New Line Band.” – Andrea Braun, KDHX-FM

“Seated like the sides of a parenthesis in the middle of the stage are nine dysfunctional figures. Collectively, they slump their shoulders, keep their eyes to the ground and convey the impression of the misfits that they are. All presidential assassins or would-be assassins, they come together here, in a breezy one-act musical, to tell us why they did what they did, not for forgiveness. With a book by John Weidman and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Assassins crackles with energy, comedy and sassy class.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“If you’re looking to add another notch to your Sondheim gun belt, here is an infrequent opportunity to see a cynical, unsettling entertainment by the defining theater composer of our generation.” – Dennis Brown, The Riverfront Times

DIRECTOR'S NOTES
A few months ago Benazir Bhutto, the former and possible future prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated. In 2005, televangelist Pat Robertson publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Also in 2005, a would-be assassin tried to kill George W. Bush while in the former Soviet Union. Wikipedia lists forty attempted assassinations of world leaders since 1990.

In other news… this month the Supreme Court will finally tackle the question of whether the Second Amendment to the Constitution gives implied gun ownership rights to individuals or only the rights it specifically spells out to state-run militias (i.e., the National Guard). The last time the Court addressed this issue was in 1939 (U.S. v. Miller) when it ruled that the amendment was intended by the framers only to allow states to raise militias without federal interference and had nothing to do with private ownership of guns. It’s hard to watch Assassins today without that issue in our minds, plagued as we are with 30,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries from guns every year. Why do Americans love guns so much?

And why are we so fascinated by American political assassination? Why are so many people convinced that Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy? Why are there so many books about Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth? Part of the answer may be the never ending human quest to understand ourselves and our world – the same reason we make theatre. Can we learn about our own demons by studying these assassins? Part of the reason is that we all agree on certain things in civilized society, like that we won’t kill each other. When that compact is broken, particularly in such a high profile way, it makes us wonder which compact will be broken next. Can we still rely on the other things we’ve all agreed to?

Or is there an even darker fascination at work here, a uniquely American obsession with violence and the power it brings, which usually manifests itself harmlessly enough in ultra-violent video games and Rovian politics, but also sometimes in political doctrines like “preemptive war”?

Perhaps our fascination with political assassination comes from the knowledge that such a tiny moment, such a small, individual act can literally change the world in an instant. How can that be possible? And if it is possible, can we believe in the sureness of anything? Though these nine assassins are the show’s protagonists, still, in a moralistic sense, these assassins are villains and the audience – the American people – are the real protagonists. Or are they? What does it mean for a piece of theatre when the villains are the heroes and the heroes aren’t on stage for most of the show? What does it say about America?

But Assassins isn’t a show about right and wrong; it’s about why. It's about hearing the other side of the story, getting closer to these assassins than we normally would, standing in their world for ninety minutes, and realizing, perhaps to our horror, that they’re not that different from us…