Marshal Kennedy Carolan wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye when Hair, the smash hit of 1968, opened on Broadway.
But here he is now, at age 27, taking the co-lead role of Claude in the show’s national tour, on stage at the Academy of Music through Sunday.
“I wish I had been around to see the original, but just to be in it now is a dream come true,” said Carolan, who was an understudy for the role and is playing it now while the original Claude takes a three-week leave. “And that leaves me appearing in Philadelphia, somewhere I’ve never been but have been anxious to see.”
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. Several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War and peace movement. That includes songs like Let the Sun Shine In, Aquarius, Hair and Good Morning Starshine.
The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its testament of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy when it first opened. But it also broke new ground in musical theater by defining the genre of “rock musical,” using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.
According to Carolan, Hair follows a group of hopeful, free-spirited young people who advocate a lifestyle of pacifism and free love in a society riddled with intolerance and brutality during the Vietnam War.
“And here is Claude, a sweet-natured guy from Queens who’s about to be drafted. Eventually, he has to decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or give in to his parents’ urging and serve in Vietnam,” Carolan said.
“The show’s ultimate message,” he continued, “revolves around this kid who has love for country and family, and has a group of friends pulling off in different directions. Are your parents wrong? Is your country wrong? I feel as though every teenager has been in that situation at some point in their life. Maybe he hasn’t been deciding whether or not to go off to war, but there’s always that moment in life when you have to stand up and make a decision for yourself. And that’s the conflict Claude has to face.”
Carolan’s decision to quit sports and get involved in theater in his senior year in high school in California may not have been as dramatic as Claude’s ultimate decision, but it took taking a good, hard look at the way he decided his life should go.
“One day, a really good friend of mine heard me singing in the car and said I should try out for a musical the school was putting on,” Carolan explained. “I decided to give it a try, and once I realized I really could sing, I decided to go for it. My schedule didn’t allow me to do both, and so I decided musical theater overrode everything else.”
Majoring in musical theater at college, after graduation he was on his way to what he called, “the roller coaster life of an actor, with all its ups and downs, and excitement in the middle. And, of course, I’d like to stay up as long as possible.”
Since deciding on this career, Carolan has appeared in The Who’s Tommy, Mama Mia!, High School Musical, Cabaret, Pippin and more.
Today, Hair is one of his favorite shows.
“I think it is for a great many people as well,” he said. “The music is still around, but I think the storyline is also something audiences can relate to. The show’s ultimate message is peace, equality and freedom, a message that will be with us forever — I hope.” ••
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