Although I have lived in San Francisco for more than 20 years, I recently made my first journey to a Mountain Play production. It’s an amazing setting, high atop glorious Mount Tamalpais, with unsurpassed views of The City and the Bay.
For 94 years, the Mountain Play has presented annual outdoor musicals in the historic 4,000-seat Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley. Going to a show there, though, is an experience that requires a bit of stamina, planning and time. Expect stone seat surfaces (cushions provided), general admission seating and some hiking, and you’ll enjoy a unique and atypical afternoon of musical theater.
This year’s show, 1967’s “Hair,” is an interesting choice in that Mountain Play productions are considered family fare. Particularly at the time of its debut, the show featured “adult” themes that were unconventional and controversial. Are they still applicable today?
When presented off-Broadway at Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival on Oct. 29, 1967 (and subsequently on Broadway starting in April 1968, running for 1,750 performances), “Hair” not only broke new ground, but shattered cultural and theatrical norms. With its peerless tribal-love-rock musical style, it changed the course of Broadway. Its distinctive music was written by Galt MacDermot and poetic lyrics (and a barely noticeable book) were written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
The lively Mountain Play production features a cast of more than 30 singers and dancers who undertake to re-create the 1960s with fringe vests, tie-dye clothing, free love and a “far out” marijuana-infused look at the world during a time of radical political and social change.
The Vietnam War, the draft, gay liberation and recreational drug use are fodder for creative staging and mostly solid rock numbers. The music is very good. Classic hits include “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Frank Mills,” “Easy to Be Hard” and other gems, all played with spectacular verve and bravado by the onstage band under superb musical direction by Debra Chambliss.
Outstanding cast members are Susan Zelinsky as Shelia, Jeff Wiesen as Berger and Tyler McKenna as Claude. Costumes are adroitly designed by Patricia Polen, with choreography by Rick Wallace and direction by James Dunn.
Yes, “Hair” can beviewed as museum piece. It takes a look back to a time when America was waking up from a “Leave It to Beaver” portrait that had come to represent the nation. The assignations of 1960s leaders and the Vietnam War shattered those cross-stitched illusions forever. “Hair” made us take an unflinching look at our new emerging youth culture — barefoot, flowered and poised to battle and assail the armies of conformity headed our way. When will we ever learn?
Presented by Mountain Play
Where: Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley
When: 1 p.m. Sundays, plus June 9; closes June 17
Tickets: $25 to $35
Contact: (415) 383-1100
Note: Free shuttle buses run starting at 9:15 a.m. from various Mill Valley locations; visit www.MountainPlay.org for details
What is your favorite classic musical?
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