They debuted a decade apart, a long time ago. Two musicals, which on the surface don’t appear very similar. One’s genre was jazz; the other, rock.
Yet West Side Story and HAIR both probed rifts in American society, while preaching love and compassion.
They were considered daring — gang warfare was not typical Broadway musical fare in the 1950s, and on-stage nudity was something new in the ’60s.
And each show yielded songs that endure. Greater Morristown got potent reminders over the weekend, with the Mayo Performing Arts Center’s production of West Side Story, and HAIR, A 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Mt. Tabor Tabernacle.
HAIR arrived Off-Broadway in 1967, and would spend four years on Broadway. Its cast album won a Grammy, and pop stars scored hits with covers of Hair, Aquarius, Easy to Be Hard, Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sunshine.
The message of HAIR, a hippie saga inspired by the anti-Vietnam War movement, resonates today, even though “it’s a different war we’re fighting now,” said Meredith Borden, one of “The Tribe” that sang selections from the show in Mt. Tabor.
Air, a sparkly tune about environmental ravages of the ’60s, sounded eerily on point in the wake of President Trump’s pullout from the Paris climate accord.
“The message is way timely,” said Dawn Ward-Lau, a newcomer to Mt. Tabor who has created the Mt. Tabor Arts Collaborative.
In 1994, she toured Europe in a revival of HAIR. She invited many of her former tour-mates to sing on Saturday; they came from points in Jersey, New York, Boston, Colorado and California.
This time, they kept their clothes on.
It was a joyous reunion, just the same, as you can see from their reprise of Aquarius for a missing mate, via video chat, at the after-party in the living room of Danielle and Chris Merzatta:
Video: Letting their ‘HAIR’ down:
Look for more shows in the octagonal, 350-seat Tabernacle, along with exhibits, cabaret workshops and youth programs, Ward-Lau said.
“We want to mentor up-and-coming kids,” teaching valuable “life-skills” in addition to performing tips, she said, “while bringing Broadway to your backyard.”
Let the sun shine in.