Hair the musical is coming to the Victoria Theatre, but not like you’ve seen it before.
“We don’t have giant peace signs everywhere, we’re not passing out flowers, it’s really about the context of the story and the journey of continuing to break this norm,” said Matthew McCoy, founder and artistic director of Bay Area Musicals!, the company behind the production. “Every generation, we feel like this is the norm. And then this generation from Hair said, okay, if this is the norm what is the next norm? Which breaks the box open again.”
McCoy saw the relevance of Hair to the current cultural and political climate. In San Francisco especially, the revival of an ode to the hippie anti-war movement some 50 years later is still relevant. This version is modern, minimalist, and in some cases literally naked. But the bones – a challenge to the status quo and the intolerant mentalities that still persist – are still there.
“I think there’s been a lot of hatred toward race, toward sexuality… All of these topics are discussed, and not only just touched on or mentioned in the show, it’s literally brought straight to your face,” McCoy said. “There’s an orgy scene, and two guys are on each other. And we need to be okay with it. And we need to be okay with race.”
He noted violence, shootings by police, and the recent gay-bashing in the Marina.
“For all these things to be happening, it’s a slap in the face to say: We’re not as progressive as we think we are,” McCoy said.
Rotimi Agbabiaka, an actor in the production who lives in the Mission, sees expressions of the intolerance and violence that Hair calls out in his life – homeless people in need, ongoing wars, and displacement of the arts.
“Those are things that I definitely witness and am concerned about, and I think those issues get reflected in this play,” Agbabiaka said.
Of course, times have clearly changed since the Summer of Love. And even in his six years in the city, Agbabiaka has seen the artistic, free-spirited body of San Franciscans shift.
“I definitely think it’s harder for artists to stay here,” he said. “I walk around my neighborhood and the people I see are so different, the artists and the strange weird people who made the city the strange beautiful place that it has been are not around as much.”
McCoy, who came to San Francisco specifically because it was a place with enough support for the arts that he could make a living in theater, founded Bay Area Musicals! specifically so that the region would have its own production company dedicated exclusively to musical theater.
He began work on Hair and sought out a place to bring it to an audience. McCoy settled on the Victoria Theatre, in part because of its proximity to public transportation, but also because of its character and grit.
“Hair is a little bit grittier, a little bit dirtier, and the Mission fits well with that,” McCoy said. “It doesn’t have this necessarily polished feel to it, it’s one of the oldest theaters we have in San Francisco…it has that charm of an older building as well, which fits with the show itself.”
Agbabiaka has a similar reverence for the old theater.
“It’s wonderful to get to be on the stage, and be backstage, and get to be down in the dressing rooms in such a historic building,” he said. “I love that it’s still around, I love that it’s still being used for performance and for arts…it’s really exciting to be a part of that legacy.”
Hair opens tonight at the Victoria Theatre at 2961 16th Street and plays until March 12, 2016. Tickets are available here.