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MUSKET prepares to bring tribal love-rock to the Power Center with "HAIR"

Jake Fromm/Daily Buy this photo

Daily Arts Writer
Published November 18, 2009

Standing at center stage in a sparsely decorated rehearsal room at the Student Theatre Arts Complex, three cast members in MUSKET’s production of “HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” run through a scene that has them arguing with each other.

Will DeCamp, an LSA freshman cast member, defiantly strides toward another cast member and shouts “Are you a hippie?” directly into his face.

Immediately, the rest of the cast bursts on stage from the back of the room and starts performing a blistering rendition of the musical number "Hair." Backed by driving piano accompaniment from band member Chris Ranney, a Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore, the cast frenetically dances and sings across the room’s makeshift stage — a half circle of blue tape on the floor — with cast members hitting their marks with a precision matched only by their intensity.

As the cast finishes the song, facing an audience of several production staff members and director Torrey Wigfield, a Music, Theatre & Dance senior, there’s an almost electric sense of vitality in the building. The unified vocals of the ensemble continue to reverberate throughout the room.

But the cast has more material to cover tonight, and they quickly move on to the next scene. There might have been time to worry about these things earlier, but the first show is less than a week away.

This weekend, MUSKET will take the stage at the Power Center for three performances of “HAIR,” the troupe’s fall semester production and the latest in a long tradition of diverse shows performed and produced by the group.

“HAIR” follows a tribe of hippies living in New York during the 1960s, coping with issues of sexuality, politics, religion and identity during the Vietnam War. The show was written during the decade in which it’s set, and since then has become a staple among musicals that challenge and explore American culture — a revival of the show has been playing on Broadway since March.

MUSKET itself has been around since 1908, when the troupe was originally called the Michigan Union Opera Company. In subsequent years, the group — which switched its focus to musicals, changed its name and allowed women to join starting in 1956 — has regularly presented a wide variety of shows, ranging from traditional works like “West Side Story” and “Evita” to more recent shows like “The Full Monty” and “Assassins.”

The MUSKET creative team’s decision to tackle “HAIR” stemmed chiefly from a passion for the source material — or, as Wigfield describes it, the drive to build something “awesome, righteous and kick-ass” from the original show’s foundation.

“I wanted something that would be fun, I wanted something that would stimulate creativity, I wanted colors, lights, sound, I want something that could be in your face,” Wigfield said.

“But really, what I wanted overall was … a piece of musical theater that has something to say.”

“HAIR” is Wigfield’s first show as a director and he admits that when he started at the University, he wasn’t a fan of the musical theater scene. It was the strength of the material of "HAIR," however, that drew him to the project.

“‘HAIR’ comes out of a different style of theater — a theater that is breaking traditions, that is breaking what a book musical could be,” Wigfield said.

“You look at things like ‘Oklahoma!’ or any Rodgers and Hammerstein show … they have brilliant, brilliant stories. And then, 'HAIR' comes out of nowhere and it’s fun and it’s engaging.”

Parallels can easily be made between the 1960s Vietnam War-era political climate in “HAIR” and the political climate of today, where the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly make headlines.