Are hippies outdated? Or do they still rock with a message? “Hair” will answer that question next week.

The Broadway revivial of "Hair" comes to Orlando on Tuesday.

ORLANDO – It could be one of those milestone musicals that gets better and better as the years go on, as audiences find greater levels of depth in the songs than crowds did more than 40 years ago….
…. Or it could be just another show trapped in a time capsule, hopelessly outdated, with terminology nobody even uses anymore. Hippies, anyone? Counterculture?
When “Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical” opens at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday, June 21 – the first official day of summer – and continues for a six day run, it will have been nearly 44 years since this anti-Vietnam war musical had its Off-Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, then opened on Broadway in April 1968. It would run for quite a few more performances than the Bob Carr is offering: 1,750 altogether.
But except for those who grew up in that era and enjoy a good nostalgia binge, can today’s audiences still relate to watching long-haired hippies proclaim the “Age of Aquarius” while Claude has to decide whether to resist the draft and avoid service in Vietnam, as his friends have? Should he throw aside his pacifist principles and risk his life to adhere to the values of his parents and an older, more conservative generation?
John DiDonna says the answer to that question is …. maybe.
“I think it depends on what’s going on in the world at the time the show takes play,” said DiDonna.
He should know. DiDonna is an Orlando actor, playwright and director who runs the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and directed a production of “Hair” three years ago at Seminole Community College. He recalls at the time, the Bush administration’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had become very controversial, and DiDonna said he found the basic message of “Hair” still applicable today, despite the late 1960s trappings and lingo.
“When I did it three years ago, it was very relevant,” he said. “That’s why I decided to do it. We were stuck in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now, with people dying over there, if people can make the link to that, it’s important.”
Written by two unemployed actors, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with the music score by Galt MacDermot, “Hair” is a loosely structured saga about a group of young hippies who meet in New York’s Central Park, advocating free love, drug experimentation and scorn for the square values of their elders. One of the hippies, Claude Hooper Bukowski, gets his draft notice enlisting him into the Vietnam War. Claude’s parents urge him to do the right thing and go to Vietnam, while his flower children buddies advise Claude to move to Canada, pretend he’s a homosexual, or just drop out of society – and to burn his draft card.
Toward the end of the play, as the cast sings “Let The Sunshine In” (“We starve, look at one another, short of breath walking proudly in our winter coats, wearing smells from laboratories, facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy, listening for the new told lies, with supreme visions of lonely tunes”), DiDonna used images from the war in Iraq to bring that message home – war did not end in the 1960s, and it didn’t end with Vietnam.
“I made it relevant with images on the back of the stage from the Iraq War,” he said. “I think it’s very important for people to make those connections.”
Audiences at the Seminole Community College production seemed to get the link, DiDonna said – including some who had served in Iraq.
“I had a lot of commentary very similar to that, people who were actually in the military and felt like they finally had people who were standing up for them,” DiDonna said. “A statement against war in the 1960s is still a statement against war today.”
“Hair” looks at the sexual revolution of the 1960s, complete with profanity and a nude scene at the end of the first act (censored by the administrators at Seminole Community College during DiDonna’s production), and employs a racially integrated cast that invited the audience to join them on stage at the end for a “Be-In” finale. It became a feature film in 1979, and a Broadway revival opened on March 31, 2009, winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best revival of a musical.
DiDonna said today’s directors don’t always comprehend the best to present “Hair” to modern audiences. Some treat it, he said, as just a fun musical with upbeat songs, and not a tragedy about the consequences of war.
“Often times when people do ‘Hair,’ they’re singing and laughing and dancing, and it’s not supposed to be that way,” he said. “They should be shrieking and crying. I have seen versions of ‘Hair’ where they’re laughing and happy and I have no idea what that means when their friends are going off to war and dying. I have never understood what they mean by that.”
DiDonna said he can take a play much older than “Hair” – say, for example, “The Trojan Women,” a tragedy by Euripides produced during the Peloponnesian War – and make it relevant today, depending on how the message is conveyed to modern audiences.
Paul Castaneda, executive director of the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, agreed, and said the challenges that “Hair” present to directors today are not that difficult.
“It depends on how you choose to approach it as a director,” Castaneda said. “Most times when it’s a show that has legs and dramatic stuff that’s universal, then it’s pretty easy to draw parallels to today.”
“Hair,” Castaneda said, is not as dated as it might sound, despite its late 1960s milleu.
“If there’s stuff going on in the current world which mirrors what was going on back then, it’s easy, and I think there is a lot going on today that’s still relevant to ‘Hair,’ “ he said. “There’s wars going on today that people disagree with, there’s still a counterculture today, and there’s still a disaffected youth that doesn’t understand the older generation, and vice versa. Those kinds of things, thematically, still work.”
The Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre is at 401 W. Livingston St. in downtown Orlando. To get tickets for “Hair,” call 407-849-2577 or log on to http://www.orlandovenues.net/other_info_files/bob_carr_centre.php.


Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

“The Supporting Cast” poses the age-old question: will dating ever get easy?

"The Supporting Cast" is a cute comedy about the perils of dating.

ORLANDO — Sometimes it’s not easy being the supporting cast. And I’m not talking about the actors in television shows, movies or on Broadway who hide in the shadows under the marquee-name star. It’s not always a picnic being the buddy who watches on the sidelines as two friends chart those most choppy and unpredictable of waters, the pursuit of love. Romance, after all, has been written about so much throughout the ages that most of us — especially if we’re avid readers –should be able to master it by the time we hit college. It doesn’t quite work that way, though, does it? And that’s precisely what Charlie recognizes as he observes his pal Ben begin the dating ritual with Naomi.
Ben is a kind, gentle soul, and Naomi is sweet and good natured. They watch Japanese flicks by the famous dirctor Akira Kurosawa, eat Chinese food, and discuss movie trivia. Ben even appears to be winning Naomi over when he shows her his book of poems — which includes the ones he drafted at age 5 that, in all probability, won’t make Robert Frost feel envious. But Ben’s slight embarrassment at their cheesy, Hey-what-do-you-want-I-was-5 nature only seems to make him more endearing to Naomi.
But as you can probably imagine, things start to get bumpy for the lovebirds.
It always does.
“The Supporting Cast” is a sweet, funny comedy about the dating world, capturing those awkward times when sitting on a couch next to the person you might be falling for offers up the occasional “perfect moment” when everything is going just right, and then …. oops. You say something stupid. Or stumble over your words or actions. And suddenly the moment has been lost. Will it ever come again? Written and directed by Jamie B. Cline, “Supporting Cast” has, beneath its comical moments, more than a few elements of truth about the potholes that come up on the dating world. It’s so hard to make any series of dates feel like everything is going smoothly, when everything reaches those euphoric moment of sheer perfection. Mostly you’re still trying to get a sense of what your date likes and doesn’t like, what the other person will respond to in a positive manner — and what grossly turns them off. It’s hit or miss, and Ben and Naomi do plenty of both as Charlie — who also serves as our narrator, and who occasionally likes to banter with the theater audience — looks on.
He has one advantage, though: Charlie can snap his fingers and Ben and Naomi freeze, as time stops. Charlie can then make a valiant effort to rescue the moment — like tossing a note into Ben’s hand for him to read to Naomi after Charlie snaps his fingers and brings them back to reality, with, Charlie hopes, the perfectly chosen words to make it all better. Does it always work? Well, not quite.
Still, wouldn’t life be great if our supporting cast truly could rescue us at those major league “oops” moments?
Part of the play’s charm consists of a likable cast that makes you want to root for the couple’s success, since both Allan Forbes as Ben and Allison Piehl as Naomi seem natural and easy to relate to. Their good and bad moments feel like something we might have experienced ourselves, perhaps not so long ago. And John Reid Adams makes for a fun and engaging narrator — not to mention a fine Cupid with his finger-snapping tricks.
Fringe often seems to encourage, perhaps even inspire, local artists to be at their most creatively outrageous — to throw caution to the wind and to take “experimental” to new heights. Sometimes it works, sometimes the results are supremely dreadful — I’ve experienced both at Fringe.
“The Supporting Cast,” on the other hand, is happy to be a modest 45 minute look at dating in ways any of us can associate with as being true to life. It’s a pleasant, enjoyable way to spend your time at Fringe.
“The Supporting Cast” has two more performances, tonight at 5:45 and Saturday at 7:45 p.m. Tickets cost $8 and the show is being performed in the Brown Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre in Loch Haven Park.

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Fringe play set in a failing Milwaukee bar in the 1970s has straight — and gay — appeal.

ORLANDO – It’s the early 1970s, Nixon is president, and in one older neighborhood in Milwaukee, it’s just not that easy anymore to run a small bar.
Ricky, also known as Swinging Dick, thinks the best way to lure in customers isn’t better beer, but better talent on the stage, so he starts hiring women to do topless dancing, including his on-again, off-again girlfriend Betty. She gets on stage, starts to dance, and off comes her top – and with that, Ricky assumes, will be the key to saving his failing corner bar.

"Big Swinging Dick's Topless bar" may actually be one of the tamer productions at Fringe this year.

Now Ricky, it should be noted, is a man of some old fashioned morals. When he notices two gay customers sitting at a table, he kicks them out – this topless bar, he stresses, is a respectable joint and doesn’t service their kind. The gay couple, it turns out, have shown up not for the Budweiser but to see Ricky’s newest act, Fanny – which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would two gay guys hang out in a cheap bar waiting to see a female stripper?
Well, let’s just say Ricky didn’t do his homework before he hired Fanny – like take a closer look at his new “talent” and discover that she is in actuality a he. Fanny may fit into a tight skirt and walk elegantly in heels, and her wig fits nicely, but underneath the padded bra she’s all man.
What have I done, Ricky sighs in exasperation as he tosses his hands in the air. His malaise gets even worse when Fanny points out that Ricky signed a contract with her – um, him … well, her – and he’s stuck with the act.
Running a respectable topless bar just is not what it used to be.
The Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival is known for original productions that strive, as much as is humanly possible, to be offbeat, crazy, weird, experimental and sometimes flat-out controversial. So far, the 20th annual Fringe – which continues today though Memorial Day Weekend – is no exception. The irony is that this production – which has one of the longest titles, “Big Swinging Dick’s Topless Bar Presents: The Naked Drag Queen Farting” – may actually be one of the more traditional. Kind of.
Written by Al Pergande, a veteran Fringe writer who also writes for Ink19.com, and directed by Desmond Flynn, “Big Swinging Dick’s” is a breezy, easygoing comedy about one man’s sometimes stumbling efforts to prove that capitalism truly does work, assuming you can figure out where your market niche is. As the play opens, Dick’s Topless Bar appears to have a bleak future; if it doesn’t shut down for lack of business, it could get taken by the city of Milwaukee through eminent domain — at least that’s what the neighborhood bar fly claims. He predicts the city will pave over the bar to build a new expressway, and he hopes to tap into that by buying up older buildings and then reselling them to the city at a tidy profit once the expressway has been built.
Ricky decides to take a similar approach, introducing topless dancers to his patrons, and then discovering that a truly good drag queen can diversify his audience quite a bit. He learns that gays are okay when they pay, and that Dick’s Topless Bat may actually stick around if it offers something for everyone.
Pergande and Flynn take a similar approach. Pergande said he wrote the play after Fringe, in one particular year, offered up more than its share of gay-themed plays with male nudity. Why not do a play with a little female nudity, he asked.
At the same time, Paul Horan is so good as Fanny that “Big Swinging Dick’s” crossover appeal should be obvious, if not irresistable. Rather than play Fanny in a flamboyant, over-the-top, Ru Paul-esque manner, Horan plays it “straight,” giving us a drag queen that’s street smart, a shrewd business operator, and a pretty classy dame to boot. Dispensing advice on love, business and heartaches, Horan is so good that the play’s lack of a real plot – understandable for a 45 minute show – doesn’t seem to matter. Every minute Horan is on stage, he completely dominates it – no moment more hilariously than when Fanny zeroes in on a fire inspector there to warn Ricky that the building violates city codes.
Mike Maples also scores well as Ricky, the bar owner forced to adopt to changing times, while Erick Kuritzky is perfect as the kind of bay fly every neighborhood bar truly does seem to have – chatty, with an opinion on everything, and never without a beer bottle in his hand.
“Big Swinging Dick’s,” then, is an opportunity to spend an hour in that little bar, watching how opportunity sometimes knocks in surprising ways. And yesssirree, folks, that Drag Queen is sure worth the price of admission.
The play is being performed in the Green Venue at the Orlando Repertory Theatre in Loch Haven Park. It has one more performance on Saturday at 8:45 p.m.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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