BATH — A musical that arguably helped change many people’s views about the Vietnam War and the flower-power generation did just that for Thom Watson.
Watson – a former state representative who is directing Studio Theatre of Bath’s production of “Hair” this weekend – wasn’t a big fan of the show when it hit Broadway in 1968.
Watson said he first heard of “Hair” while he was in U.S. Navy flight school, preparing for the first of two tours in Vietnam. He had attended a conservative college in South Carolina, and recalled being critical of the play’s anti-war and anti-draft sentiments.
“I was really caught up in the thinking that hippies in general were anti-everything,” the Bath resident said last week. “But after listening to the music as much as I have, and when I started in on the process of putting this show together, I realized that these kids were not unpatriotic at all.”
“I realized that I was wrong, back in the ’60s, to think that these kids were anti-American,” Watson continued. “… They were really and truly just very concerned about where the country was going.”
He noted that “Hair” chose an unusual way at the time for expressing that notion, but that the musical broke the boy-meets-girl mold and paved the way for rock operas like “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and the Who’s “Tommy.”
“Hair” will be performed at the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham Friday, April 18, and Saturday, April 19. It follows the story of the Tribe, a group of hippies who are politically active, living a bohemian lifestyle in New York City, and battling being conscripted into the war.
The show includes classic songs like “Aquarius,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).” But unlike earlier versions of “Hair,” this one won’t have the infamous (or famous, depending on your perspective) nudity.
For instance, one character, Berger, traditionally doffs his pants early in the show and hands them to a member of the audience to hold for him, Watson noted. Instead, the character in Bath will still be wearing a tie-dyed pair of “tighty whities.”
Aside from his interest in the show’s theme, Watson also wanted to direct this piece to make up for what he feels the 1979 film version lacked.
“When the movie came out I rushed to see it – and rushed to leave the theater before the credits rolled, deeply disappointed,” he said in a press release. “I have wanted to direct the show ever since, wanting to somehow undo the damage the movie version did to the script. It has been a blast watching this young cast coming together as the Tribe, and growing into their sometimes confusing and complicated roles.”
The musical’s message remains particularly timeless, and even similar, today, Watson said: “We don’t have the same wars, and we don’t have the draft, but there’s still a bunch of racism, and sexism, in our society, that “Hair” … points out, and so, 45 years later, it’s still very relevant.”
The cast of “Hair,” which will be performed at the Orion Performing Arts Center, 66 Republic Ave., Topsham, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 18, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.