Performance » Theater

Stage of Aquarius

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No one should deny themselves the opportunity to see great musical theater just because it's a little outside their comfort zone. At the same time, is it any better to buy a ticket just because one enjoys shocking and divisive content? Controversial subject matter and adult language are not reasons to see or to not see a show, says Bob Harbin, founder of local production company Bobdirex. The only reason to go to the theater, Harbin says, is to have a great time, which is exactly what his upcoming production of the recently revived musical Hair promises to be -- a rip-roaring good time.

Harbin was inspired to bring the iconic rock musical to Indianapolis after seeing the Tony Award-winning revival in 2009.

"It's been a wonderful - adventure," director Bob Harbin says, "rediscovering all these things, and [the cast] discovering it for the first time." - COURTESY BOB DIREX
  • Courtesy Bob Direx
  • "It's been a wonderfuladventure," director Bob Harbin says, "rediscovering all these things, and [the cast] discovering it for the first time."

"I thought, 'Oh my, there's so much excitement and fun here that we just haven't seen for a while.' And I love Indianapolis, but I think sometimes we get a little safe. So this isn't safe!"

He's not wrong: Hair is anything but safe. Born out of the hippie counterculture and the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the story is set against the Vietnam War and follows the "tribe," a group of young bohemians living in New York City, challenging the beliefs of conservative America, while sorting through their own lives and loves. It's been challenged for many things, from its treatment of sexuality to its irreverence for the American flag, but Harbin isn't much interested in the controversy. He admits, "This is the first time I've done a show that I've actually had to say is for mature audiences, so that's kind of bizarre for me."

Harbin knows that there will be people who decline to attend because of the content, and he's OK with that.

"That's part of the risk you take," he says.

But he hopes that at the same time, new people might be drawn to the Athenaeum this July, because they're excited to see "a little something different." He also notes that the show often speaks to young people, especially college students.

"It's your first time away from home, the first time you've actually thought maybe about rebelling against thoughts or ideas that you've been taught since you were very young, and young people find that challenging and attractive," he explains.

Indy's Pride Week seemed like the perfect time for the cast of Hair to strut their stuff ahead of the show's premiere this weekend. - COURTESY BOBDIREX
  • Courtesy BOBDIREX
  • Indy's Pride Week seemed like the perfect time for the cast of Hair to strut their stuff ahead of the show's premiere this weekend.

He himself was "bowled over" by the original production of Hair when he was in high school, and he now has the pleasure of sharing that experience with the cast, who has bonded so much throughout rehearsals that these members have become "like a real tribe."

"It's been a wonderful adventure," he says, "rediscovering all these things, and them discovering it for the first time. It's exciting to work with young people and to give them a kind of show that gives them a reason to bond together. We have 22 people ... who just so care for each other, care about each other. They have each others' backs. They want to be here. And hopefully that will come across."

So what would Harbin say to those hesitant to attend a show that includes illegal drug use, profanity and nudity?

"It's summer. And it's 2014. One of the great things is that it has all the staples of musical theater. The songs are amazing. Our choreography is terrific. It is a vastly entertaining show, despite anything else," he says.  "It's got everything in it that you would ordinarily go to see musical theater for; it's all there. So don't be afraid. Challenge yourself a little bit, show up, and have some fun."

Harbin pauses in reflection and then jokes, "You don't have to tell your neighbors you went."

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