‘Hair’ tour returns Atlanta to Age of Aquarius

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imageIt’s rare that an actor plays a role through the entire run of a Tony-winning Broadway show – as well as on the road – but that’s what Darius Nichols is doing in the “Hair” revival, running Tuesday through Sunday at the Fox.

Nichols (photo) stars as Hud in the revival of the celebrated 1968 rock musical, all about the flower children of the ‘60s. The revival started in Central Park in 2007 and was originally slated for only three performances. They proved popular and the company returned to the park the next year for six weeks. The next step was Broadway in 2009, where “Hair” won a Tony last year for Best Revival of a Musical.

“We all had no idea we’d be taking it to Broadway,” Nichols says. “We thought it would be a concert series in the park.”

Nichols sees Hud as someone who has decided to speak his mind about things he doesn’t agree with.

“He is outspoken,” says the actor. “As a black man, Hud is more hurt than angry, but he realizes he needs to say how he feels. I think he can be played angrily and militantly, but I decided that if the character makes people laugh, they will listen to him.”

The performer is aware that sometimes actors have to audition endlessly for roles, but he was lucky enough to only have to do a few readings and songs while auditioning. The producers knew he was right for the part almost from the beginning, and when he got home from his second audition, he had a message offering him the role.

Besides the fact that it has such recognizable songs (“Aquarius,” Easy to Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Let the Sun Shine In,”) Nichols says “Hair” is especially timely with its message of political activism.

“There are so many parallels with today,” he says. “You have political protests, people speaking out, young people who want to change the world.”

Once he was in the cast, the openly gay performer was pleasantly surprised at how gay-friendly the show is.

“It’s very sensual,” Nichols says. “The characters are uninhibited. Although there are no specific gay characters in the play, the philosophy is ‘if it feels good, go with it.’ If a guy is having a good time with another guy, he is not going to stop. There is also a triad relationship in the musical between (leads) Berger, Claude and Sheila.”

The much-noted group nude scene is something Nichols has gotten used to. When it came time to rehearse it the first time, he and the other performers decided to just do it, although they were nervous beforehand. Now it comes as second nature.

“It’s such a non-event now,” he says.

Many of the folks who Nichols meets after seeing “Hair” admit that previously they’ve only seen the film version, but he does run into people who saw the original stage version back in the late ‘60s as well as younger people who never saw the stage show or the movie.

The younger crowd may know some of the songs but don’t know where they came from, Nichols says. For those who have only seen the movie, the main difference is that the central character of Claude is not from the Midwest –He is a part of the original East Village tribe – and many of the songs from the stage version do not appear in the film.

Nichols says the touring version of “Hair” is almost exactly the same as the Broadway one.

“What I love is that it’s such an interactive piece,” he says. “We get to interact with the audience. From the minute the show starts with ‘Aquarius,’ I think we hook them.”

Nichols was also in the original cast of the gay-themed musical “Zanna Don’t,” which was staged locally a few seasons ago by Actor’s Express. He says that no matter where he travels, he is recognized for that show, which he feels has developed a sort of a cult appeal.

“Hair” opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre.

imageJim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film gay and lesbian film festival.


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