Elizabeth Boyce
Tiana Kaye Johnson in Hair.

A Play That Promises Cookies, Massages and a Giant Slide? We're Down With That.

The yarn-dressed trees dotting the Arts District are proof that Kevin Moriarty is serious about providing a "fully immersive" experience with his newest musical production. Hair  opens this week at the Wyly, and if you think the trees outside are over-the-top, just wait until you see the inside of the theater.

Hundreds of mis-matched chairs and sofa take the place of the regular seating, and there is a giant, brightly painted slide that spans the length of the seating risers. But Hair is more than a musical love-fest.

Fifty years ago Hair premiered in midst of a fervent national debate about the Vietnam War. It was fairly shocking for its time, and Hair's songs became anthems for the protest-movement. The story is themed around a “tribe” of hippies who regularly use drugs and get naked when they're not fighting for pacifist ideals like love and peace.

Now, in a new era of political frenzy, the cast of Dallas' Hair hopes the “Happening” inside the Wyly will inspire those who witness it to love a little more intensely outside the theater walls. To hear the cast speak, you may not be able to avoid it.

By DTC standards, the cast includes a lot of locals. Of 18 cast members, 13 are from DFW, including Kelsey Leigh Ervi, Chris Ramirez and Kia Boyer. They all echo the sentiment that Hair is about “unification.” “It’s an additional level of unity that so many of us are from here,” Ervi says. “It’s a way that we are representing this community.”

The cast says the play still feels shockingly, and perhaps unfortunately, relevant.

“When Hair premiered, it was never meant to be a play, but a movement,” Ramirez says.

"Hair is infamous for nudity. But we aren't freaking out about it." — castmember Chris Ramirez

“It’s still a movement. Kevin [Moriarty] has revised the script, but sadly, he didn’t have to change much to make it modern,” Boyer adds.

But the production still has its own unique vibe, Boyer says, thanks to Moriarty, choreographer Ann Yee and musical director Vonda K. Bowling, who encouraged the cast to bring their own interpretations to the show. "Vonda allows us to find what suits us."

“And the choreography is very generous to our abilities!” Ervi chimes in. She says rehearsals began by asking the actors who among them were “dancers” and who were “movers.” Ervi and Ramirez laugh as they identify themselves as belonging firmly to the latter category.

The cast say they've developed a communal language and bond as a result of their intense rehearsals, which have involved hugs, massage circles, and what they call “indulgent breathing." “It’s hard to bring such different people together,” Ervi says. “And it’s a testament that this show brings us all together as a family.”

As far as spreading the love outside of the theater, they all agree it’s been crucial to approach people personally. A “happening” before each show will further the personal interactions. Audiences will be treated to their own massages, peanut butter sandwiches and maybe even cookie-making before each show.

Each night's special treat will be a surprise to the cast as well. Moriarty will hand a card to a cast member before each show that details what the happening is for the evening. Cast members will also frequently join the audience in the seats.

And yes, the cast will be nude at times. Boyer, a nude model, says she’s very often naked, but this play required a level of emotional connection that was jarring to her. “You have to make eye contact and have empathy!”

“Hair is infamous for its nudity,” Ramirez adds. “But we aren’t freaking out about it. We agree with how the nudity is used in the play.”

“It’s very freeing,” Ervi says. “It’s intimacy that isn’t sexual, and that’s comforting. It’s very emotional and beautiful.”

Katy Lemieux is a Dallas-based writer covering theater and the arts. She is a mother to two beautiful human children and three beautiful animal children. She has been published in Esquire Magazine, Texas Monthly, D Magazine, TheaterJones, American Theatre Magazine and most notably The Senior Voice.

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