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November 30, 2012

A return to Aquarius

Newburyport High channels spirit and strife of '60s with `Hair'

NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport High School Theater Department is taking audiences back to the 1960s, when peace, love and harmony reigned supreme and America’s youth were rising up to create a new social order.

When the winter production of the Broadway musical "Hair" opens tonight, the school's young actors will be transformed into a tribe of hippy, free-loving friends who in the spring of 1968 could be seen communing on every college campus and city street across America.

On the heels of presenting the weighty subject matter of "Rent," their last production, the students are now poised to fully explore the tumult and sacrifice of a generation of men and women who grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War.

The Theater Department is no stranger to bringing mature material to the high school stage. Its last production, "Rent, explored themes of drugs and sex in inner-city New York. But while the high school cast presented a softened version of "Rent" adapted for school productions, the department's directors say no such watered-down script exists for "Hair."

So people should come prepared to experience the original songs and show — sans editing, they said. Co-director Lisa Zaleski said the show is recommended for ages 13 and up, "using parental discretion.”

For those who don’t feel comfortable with such themes, Zaleski invites them to wait and check out the school’s upcoming family-friendly production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

But Zaleski said she and her co-director, Stephanie Williams, feel strongly about providing their theater students the ability to perform shows like "Hair" in addition to more family-oriented productions.

“Throughout their time here, they’re exposed to a variety of genres,” Zaleski said of her students.

Introducing students to more mature subjects through a performance, like those found within "Rent" and "Hair," creates opportunities for communication and education, the directors said.

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