1296265_origFirst Act Productions is a young company full of energy, abandon, and a surprising number of strong voices, perfectly suited to a production of Hair with all of its go-for-broke exuberance and and ensemble focus. In fact, for a relatively small startup company featuring mostly students and recent grads, it’s actually remarkable how excellent an ensemble First Act has managed to assemble for Hair. With just a few weakpoints, most everyone has a good voice and dance skills strong enough to tackle Emma Bartolomucci’s clever choreography- a smart mix of simple steps that showcases the ensemble well and brings together some of the loopier numbers without showing any weak legs in the delicate triple threat balance. The set is smartly designed to allow for levels and Oscar Moreno’s direction keeps the action moving decently well.

The acting is probably the weakest element of the show but it’s not as though the material is coherent enough to give the non-Claude characters much to play dramatically beyond convincing drug use. Colin Asuncion’s take on Berger is a little grating and he never quite sells the character’s laid-back charm enough to make his emotional outbursts tolerable but Bruce Scavuzzo’s Woof is thoroughly sweet and Sam Moffatt’s Claude holds the stage as the clear leading man in a group with a surprising number of pretty good men (including Twaine Ward’s amusing and well-sung Hud). Moffatt’s voice is so good that my plus one for the evening almost didn’t notice that during his solo at the end of act one the entire ensemble stripped down for Hair‘s trademark nakedness. The other standouts for me were Samantha Bielanski as Crissy, whose sweet rendition of “Frank Mills” is one of the most sincere moments of the production, and Michelle Nash who stands out in the ensemble and kicks off the show with a powerhouse “Aquarius”.

There were lots of sound issues, a wig mishap, the occasional clumsily executed dance move, some dull pieces of broad staging, and the genuinely bizarre moment at the end when the musical director riffed on “Let the Sunshine In” instead of one of the cast members (maybe someone was sick and couldn’t hit the notes?), but all of that was mostly ignorable and the cost of it being a company with the youth and scrappiness to pull off Hair without the commercial hypocrisy that confused CanStage’s production a few years back. This is where I’d normally launch into a long paragraph about why Hair itself makes Hair really hard to sit through no matter the production- I just don’t think it’s a good musical if you don’t stand in awe of its historical significance. The words are mostly gibberish and the story is pretty close to non-existent.- but I’m going to leave it alone because First Act does a pretty good job and I’m sure people who inexplicably like Hair will love this production of it.

Hair plays at The Papermill Theatre until January 26th. For more information visit http://www.firstactproductions.ca/