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Jon Chattman

Jon Chattman

Posted: July 21, 2009 11:12 AM

Hair: The Tribe Has Spoken


They sing it loudly and proudly every night at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, and it's becoming more and more obvious that the Gods are listening. The sun is shining in on everyone associated with the Broadway revival of Hair: the cast, the crew... and Lord knows the audiences.

Ever since the show, which centers on a group of young adults living for love and peace during the Vietnam era, opened in April, it's been a love fest all around. Every night is a sell out. Last month, the show picked up a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Last week, the cast recording debuted at #1 on the Billboard Broadway Chart and at #63 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. Momentum continued Monday when the entire cast and crew (50 some people) flew to perform in L.A. on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

More accolades will likely follow, and three stars of the production (I'm sure everyone associated with it) know how lucky they've been to experience a journey that started in a concert in Central Park last summer. Kacie Sheik, Ato Blankson-Wood, and Steel Burkhardt were all at that show and all make their Broadway debuts in Hair. They know they've scored the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket in landing this gig. I interviewed them separately but put their comments together, because, well, this cast seems to just go together everywhere. This is what the trio had to say...

First a concert, than Shakespeare in the Park, now a Broadway smash -- could you have ever written a better story to make your Broadway debut?

KS: No. I don't think I ever dreamed that it would ever be dreamy - especially how important this piece is to us. I don't think you could make that up. We did the concert in 2007, and literally signed up for an exciting eight day, nine day process. We thought we were going to memorize everything, sing it in some kind of costume, and that would be it. I can't believe what it has become and the event it's become.

ABW: It has been an out of control experience. It's more than just a job for an actor. It's definitely an experience.

SB: I'm kind of living the dream a little bit. I [went] out of school and right into doing the show... the concert and then Broadway. I feel really lucky and blessed.

Did you know just how important this show was when you signed up for it?

KC: I think we started to find out while we were in it- doing some research and listening to stories and listening to personal anecdotes from our creative team and production staff and our loved ones. Everybody has their stories from 1967 to the 1970s and how it affected their lives. One of those lives was my dad's story and some cast members talk about their parents that did fight in the war. It also became apparent when it was literally in our faces last summer at Shakespeare in the Park. We were able to have a dialogue with the audience and live with them for that whole summer. I remember specifically one gentleman dressed in a suit and holding his eyeglasses in his hand at end of the show. He was sitting down curled up in a ball crying. I noticed him by one of the steps - I didn't know if he was upset or moved. He proceeded to tell me about his experience. He fought in the war and he got tear gassed and told us about the words [in the show] and how relevant they were. It could've been my dad sitting there.

SB: We get that a lot. People come talk to us after the show or write letters in. They talk about how their friend saw the [original] and then went to Vietnam. They share stories about losing a friend, or losing a brother. [Before this show] I heard a little stories like that. I've been working at bars since I was like 14, and you always have one of those - you call them 'crazy Vietnam vets.' They're not crazy. They're just people who went through a lot of shit. It's an amazing experience to have them comfortable to share that with you.

You all seem to get along so well, and seem just as carefree as your characters. Are you guys a tribe off stage as well?

KC: We do hold so much respect and gratitude to the casting. The people that they found and put in this tribe are these incredibly unique souls with huge hearts. How did they know? We do hear from other tribes that have done "Hair" - from the older generation that's been doing it since the '60's and '70's to kids who are doing it at their high and college. It's just a known fact at this point that if you do 'Hair' in some way or another, it's going to change your life....whether it's the people you're around and the bond that is formed, the material, or because of what we go through on every night in the show. I know it sounds so overwhelming.

ABW: With the concert, it was nine days or something. We were all thrown into the same situation. We all had to get along. We all had to be there for each other...get naked with each other, and roll on top of each other, and kissing each other. We had to go there immediately. But, it's deepened since we've had more time with each other. It's like a family. You sometimes argue, but at the end of the day you have love for each other. That's what seems to prevail.

SB: We have our tiffs like any family, but all in all we understand it's a working environment and to work better with each other, like any family, you have to talk it out. We don't have any bad seeds. I would say everybody's personality fits pretty well in the group. It's such a large group and of course you break into smaller groups like any high school or college program. I feel like I'm more of a chameleon - I kind of jump in and out of every group. I like interacting with people - and some people have bad days and you just know to stay away from that person on that day or talk to them and try to get them through it.

The show is really resonating now because of the times we live in. I know, for me, it didn't have that same impact when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s.

KS: Absolutely....Could you imagine if your brother, boyfriend, husband, or your cousin was drafted to Afghanistan? [We've] come to be activists in our how right.

ABW: It's kind of disconcerting - we're not seeing bodies coming home, we're not seeing any of that like the '60's and that is something that frightens me.

Did you have any reservations about the nudity?

KS: Not at all. I was actually hoping to have the opportunity to make a decision to be included or not, because it's always voluntary. Every tribe will tell you that. You can get naked one night and not the next just as long as everyone knows what's happening beforehand. I'm pregnant in the show, so it was kind of this big deal to make a belly. I'm grateful to be a part of it and see the faces of audiences and see if they get it. I'm sure some of them are shocked but they're understanding of what we're doing.

ABW: No, not at all. I feel like my whole life I was born in the wrong decade. I'm glad I get to live this time through the show.

SB:I was a little nervous at first. I didn't get naked for the first two nights of the concert. On third day, I was just like I may never have this opportunity to do it again and I did it and it was so freeing. I became a workoutaholic three years ago, so I'm more comfortable with my body. Being with a group on stage, it's such a togethering experience. It'd be different if I was on stage by myself completely nude. Being with a group I would call friends, it's powerful.

Lastly, you all break into the audience and dry hump a lot of people. Was there anybody in the audience that you spotted and were enticed to run immediately to?

KS: There's a vast array of situations that are all kind of different. I mean Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were sitting on the aisle one night. The way our show is it's beautifully lit, and we see [everyone]. Honestly in the moment running out into the audience, I may not recognize that that's Tom Hanks. I'm just going to that seat that I'm always going to .

ABW: I'm not really the dry humping type. Tom Hanks came and I wanted to get to him but I never went by him. My track doesn't go by where he was sitting and I was like "I am drying humping Tom Hanks." Another girl in cast ended up doing it.

SB: I only really go in the audience once or twice. I never really get down in the orchestra area. Heather Locklear came to the show and I wish I could have gyrated on her.

HAIR began preview performances on March 6 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (302 West 45th Street, NYC)

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