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John Lennox searched for a play with a “Rage Against the Machine” concept for the latest Lansing Community College theater production. After discarding “Sweeny Todd,” because of its complexity and cost, he settled on his second choice: “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”
“It fit my concept and the music is wonderful,” Lennox said. “It was a perfect choice.”
After “Hair” opened in 1967 and appeared on Broadway a year later, the cast album and several of its songs became hit singles. The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/ Let the Sun Shine” was the most listened to American recording in 1970. “Hair” includes over 30 songs and was considered the first rock musical to be performed on Broadway.
Starting Friday night — for a two weekend run — “Hair” is being performed inside the Dart Auditorium on LCC’s campus. Lennox promises “amazing singing and dancing,” and a set with a "brilliant design.”
Lennox has been teaching theater at LCC for more than 24 years. The 50-year-old Jackson resident created LCC's Michigan Shakespeare Festival in 1995.
“In the ‘70s, I was definitely a peace, love, granola boy,” he said.
With "Hair," he's had a chance to revisit that bygone vibe. “This has been the most amazing experience, ever,” he said. “The cast has become the Tribe. They have embodied the spirit of the Hippie Tribe and it has brought us all together deeper than any cast I ever had.”
“Hair” has lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot. It tells the story of a group of longhaired hippies known as the “Tribe,” living a free-spirited life in New York City. “Hair” is about rebellion, opposition to war, embracing sexuality, drug use and love.
The ages of the LCC actors range between 18-26. “I am finding that the Millennials literally are the hippies of this era,” Lennox said. “They connect with them on such an intrinsic level.” Lennox discovered his players were already in tune with characters that were modern 50 years ago. “Not much deep discussion about the issues the characters face and their beliefs was really necessary,” he said.
When “Hair” was first performed, its irreverence for the American flag, open drug use, interracial casting and profanity was shocking for Broadway audiences.
The original “Hair” shows had no nudity. When it was revised for Broadway and for London’s West End, the nakedness was included. The Michigan State University Department of Theatre’s production in 2015 had a nude scene. Lennox decided that the LCC show will not. “Unnecessary story-wise and unwise in our current environment,” he said.
Of Lennox’s three children, two of them are in the LCC production. “My oldest and youngest,” he said. “The middle child loves that we are doing it.”
Lennox hopes his version of “Hair” will “fire up and embolden the public who see it to demand change — to exercise their right to protest, to vote for a better tomorrow,” he said. “I want them to leave with the spirit of the Hippie Tribe.”
Boris Nikolovski is already fired up. He plays “Berger,” the leader of the Tribe.
“I love it. It feels timeless to me,” Nikolovski said. “I wish it wasn’t the case, but I feel like the love that they tried to give in the musical back in the day needs to make a comeback — more than ever.”
The 26-year-old LCC theater graduate has performed in nine other LCC plays. He was also in Riverwalk’s “Spamalot.” Nikolovski wasn’t familiar with “Hair.”
“I knew nothing about it until I read the script after auditions,” he confessed.
Nikolovski is a first generation American with Yugoslavian parents. He wasn’t sure they had any familiarity with it. “They knew about the Beatles, but I’m not sure the 'Hair' soundtrack made it to Yugoslavia,” Nikolovski said.
What Nikolovski loves most about doing the show is "to have the audience with us and feeling the love and freedom we get to experience with each other every night.”
“It’s such an interesting show in that the fourth wall doesn’t exist, it’s like you’ve sat down in a hippie commune,” he said.
If Lennox hadn’t nixed the nudity, Nikolovski — who appears in a short loincloth — would have embraced the opportunity. “I honestly love getting naked on stage,” he confessed. “It’s very freeing."
“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock
Musical” $15, general, $10 seniors, $5 students Nov. 2-3, 9-10, 8 p.m. Nov. 11, 2 p.m. Dart Auditorium 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing www.internal.lcc.edu/ cma/theater (517) 483-1546