The first thing Brian Crawford Scott did after being cast as the ringleader Berger in the hippie musical “HAIR” was learn something about the hippie movement.
He is only 26, so his knowledge of the 1960s counter-culture was limited to vague cultural references. Director Diane Paulus gave Scott and the rest of the cast an immersing history of the times, with photos, readings and documentaries.
“I loved learning the history of the show and the history of the time period,” Scott said as he traveled by bus with the cast and crew en route to Maine for a performance on Friday presented by Portland Ovations at Merrill Auditorium.
“I think it was really important to make sure we knew who these people were and why they were doing what they were doing,” he said. “I think what I really learned is that the hippies were not a group of people just hanging out and freeloading. They were an active and passionate group of young people who believed in things we still talk about all the time: love, equality and peace.
“They truly believed in it, and everything they did was a form of protesting and demonstrating who they were and what they believed in.”
The version of “HAIR” to be performed in Portland is based on the 2009 revival directed by Paulus. It won a Tony Award for best musical revival.
“HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” originally opened in 1968, and was the first Broadway show with a score that sounded like the music that was on the radio. Several songs from the show became anthems of the times, “Aquarius” and “Donna” among them.
It was a landmark show on many levels. Controversial and popular, “HAIR” included nudity and profanity, and depicted drug use. It treated the American flag with something less than reverence.
It ran for four years, and was nominated for best musical at the Tonys in 1969, but lost to the period musical “1776.”
Scott loves acting in the show. He came to “HAIR” after a stint as ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The similarities between his role with the circus and his role as Berger in “HAIR” are not dissimilar. With the circus, he talked directly to the audience. In “HAIR,” Berger does the same thing.
Both are gregarious and energetic, and both involve convincing the audience to make a connection and engage in a different world for a couple of hours.
Scott is on stage at the end of Act I, when the cast disrobes. It was no secret during auditions that actors would get naked on stage. That’s part of the “HAIR” experience. But until one actually does it — until one takes off his or her clothes in front of the world — the experience is a bit hard to comprehend, Scott said.
“None of us had done anything like it before,” he said. “We were pretty hesitant.”
Not anymore. Now, the costumes come off with remarkable ease.
“It’s very artistic the way it’s done and the way it’s lit,” he said. “Everything we do is tasteful. It’s not gratuitous. It’s a very beautiful moment.”
Sounds like he learned his lessons well.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or: