Wherefore Art Thou, "Hair?" Musical Makes Rare Open-Air Run On Balboa Park Stage

Verily, 'tis oft Shakespeare's plays, not rock musicals, that grace The Old Globe's outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre

The groovy, rock musical Hair isn’t just the first production at The Old Globe theater complex since COVID shut down live shows in 2020.

It’s also one of few musicals ever performed at The Old Globe’s open-air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, and definitely the first in decades.

How’s that possible?

“About 99.9-percent of productions at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre are Shakespearean in nature,” says The Old Globe Theatre director of marketing and communications Dave Henson.

There are three theaters that make up Balboa Park’s Old Globe complex: The eponymous, 600-seat flagship; the 250-seat Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, which is a theater-in-the-round; and the 615-seat, outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical was originally scheduled to run indoors on The Old Globe main stage. COVID concerns pushed the production to the open-air Lowell Davies stage.

After a week of preview shows, Hair officially opened on August 15. Strong ticket sales have already extended the production’s run to Oct. 3.

That’s about as late as any show appears on the Lowell Davies stage this deep into the year. It’s considered too cold to be outside in fall (yes, even in San Diego).

Henson notes that Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein had seen the 2009 Hair revival that had opened in New York’s Central Park before heading to Broadway.

“He knew Hair worked well outside,” Henson says.

Lest we forget history: This iconic musical first premiered off-Broadway in New York in 1967. It shocked the theater world at the time with its brief nude scene, antiwar messaging and the glamorization of the hippie/drug movement.

A film adaptation of Hair was released in 1979.

To be or not to be? At the time, that wasn’t just a question The Bard had artfully penned.

Lowell Davies Festival Theatre Origin Story

The open-air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in The Old Globe complex at Balboa Park.

One year before the movie version of Hair hit the big screen, tragedy struck in Balboa Park. The Old Globe Theatre, first built in 1935 for the California Pacific International Exposition, was destroyed in an arson fire.

So that the annual Shakespearean Festival could be held in 1978, a proximal, canyon-sited Festival Stage was built from scratch. It took just 52 days and cost $225,000.

The Festival Stage—with no roof, and sightlines into a eucalyptus tree grove—was to be temporary. However, when the Old Globe was rebuilt in 1982, the community had fallen in love with the outdoor stage.

And so, when the Festival Stage was also felled by an arson fire in 1984 it was rebuilt within a year. It was later named after long-serving Old Globe President Lowell Davies.

(Read an extensive history of the Old Globe Theatre complex on the Ranch & Coast website.)

Seeing Hair in 2021

The ensemble cast of “Hair” in the Balboa Park production.

I attended a preview version of the musical. Like a healthy percentage of part-time theater-goes (fellow heathens who don’t attend Shakespeare productions), this was my first time sitting inside the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

It didn’t disappoint—even though the Lowell Davies isn’t as technically sophisticated as the adjacent Old Globe.

“Many shows have technical requirements that you can’t do outside,” says The Old Globe’s Henson. “Obviously, we can’t have as much technology in a theater that doesn’t have a roof.”

Hair lacks no sheen in this outdoor setting.

You’re wondering, though: Has it ever rained on a show at Lowell Davies?

Henson says they’ve had scares, but he doesn’t recall a production being rained out.

Due to lighting considerations, all shows at Lowell Davies are held at night (8 p.m.). It’s too bright (and possibly too hot) to hold weekend matinees in the daylight sun.

Temperature wasn’t an issue on the night on the night I attended. For most Lowell Davies shows, if there’s a chilly breeze you can rent a blanket for $2.

Unfortunately, COVID concerns put a kibosh on blanket rentals for Hair. Patrons are advised to dress warmly. You may also bring your own seat pillow. (My kingdom for a seat cushion!)

The show itself? The 2-hour-and-10-minute production is a hell of a lot of fun. The actors sing, dance, climb ladders, tumble off the stage and parade (socially distanced) into the audience at times.

A young, diverse, ensemble cast opens and closes the show with “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” After the closing number you’ll wonder where the time has gone.

Not just in the musical; on the calendar, as well. Hair is a loving recollection of the Hippie Generation coming of age and aiming flower power at those in political power.

Dig this: We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

In 2021, whether performed inside a traditional theater or howled at the moon in an outdoor park, Hair’s themes are as timely as ever.

Click here for information about tickets to Hair. SDSun


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