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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 47
The man of Steel - Discussing nudity, controversy, and the musical Hair
Arts & Entertainment
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The man of Steel - Discussing nudity, controversy, and the musical Hair

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Hair
November 28-
December 4
Paramount Theatre


The musical Hair is on its way back to Seattle. Directly from the smash hit Broadway revival, the show (starring several members of the 2008 Broadway revival cast) has been touted as the original rock musical being called 'daring,' 'original,' 'fresh,' 'vulgar,' and, to say the least, 'controversial.' Preparing the Emerald City for the main event, the Seattle Gay News spoke to Steel Burkhardt. Playing main character George Berger, Steel answered questions giving insight from a man who has been with this incarnation since its Central Park debut in 2007.

Eric Andrews-Katz: What kind of musical background do you have?

Steel Burkhardt: I used to sing in church and started singing at school, from elementary up through high school. I played the trumpet in band and was singing in choirs. I started taking voice lessons when I was around 14 and eventually went to the Conservatory of Music in Bryan, Ohio of all places.

Andrews-Katz: How did you get interested in the musical Hair?

Burkhardt: When I got out of college it was one of my auditions. It was my first [acting] job outside of college, when we did Hair in Central Park in 2007.

Andrews-Katz: What do you credit as the driving force behind the musical's success?

Burkhardt: The music has a huge following. It was one of the first musicals that was on Broadway that had four top-10 hits. Almost every song was a popular hit and was played on the radio. People heard the music and then they came to the show, both then [in 1968] and now.

Andrews-Katz: What differences have you noticed between Broadway audiences and the reception from London's West End?

Burkhardt: London audiences were slower to react. In New York, people wanted to go see it - not just the tourists - and they were ready for it, knowing the interaction of the show. We wanted them to react, and they reacted. In London we kind of had to let them know we were playing within the play. They're a little more conservative and uptight, so it was difficult for them to just sit and relax, respond, and laugh. We got them by the second act - well, it was either that or the alcohol drank at intermission. We had to remember that it's an American show, an American story and (pretty much) an American war. It can be related to any war and that's why it is so relevant now.

Andrews-Katz: The first time the cast got nude together, what were the reactions?

Burkhardt: There were definitely hesitations. Afterwards we realized that none of us 'looked' at each other, we were united and that went into the show. It's always fun to have a new cast member naked, because the rest of us are so relaxed with it. We try to make it fun for the new person so they can find that it's very freeing. More than half a million people have seen me naked from the stage. It's amazing how it lacks that sexual vibe.

Andrews-Katz: When your family or close friends are in the audience, do you hesitate in the now infamous nude scene?

Burkhardt: I actually don't really care who is in the audience. We have fun with it now. Especially when friends' grandparents come to the show. My friends and I are usually laughing at it, I mean, I'm not going to not do it. Some cast members opt not to do it (for whatever reasons) on particular nights, and that's fine - as long as they let the cast know in advance.

Andrews-Katz: What parallels of society do you find between the time Hair opened in 1968 and the revival opening of 2008?

Burkhardt: I think it has to do with the fact that people have a want/need for change in their daily lives. With what's going on in the world today, people want a change and they are opening to it. It comes in waves. It did then, and it's coming around again.

Andrews-Katz: When the musical first opened, it caused great controversy. What negative reactions - if any - have you encountered?

Burkhardt: I don't think we get as much as they did in the beginning. The show's nudity and drug usage got bomb threats in '68, but that was a completely different time. Then there was no nudity on TV and couples didn't sleep in the same bed. We still get people who walk out during or after the first act because they weren't prepared for the nudity or profanity of the show. We concentrate on the people who stay, not those who walk out.

Andrews-Katz: If George Berger were alive today, what kind of position would he hold in society?

Burkhardt: Being in D.C. right now, I think he would be a senator or congressman. But he might as well be off the charts somewhere in Canada. It's interesting - drug use, or clean up his act? It's hard to say.

Andrews-Katz: If you can pick one moment of the musical, what is your favorite part?

Burkhardt: I have to say my favorite is the beginning, the introductions of each character. It's weird for the audience to take in because it's a non-traditional form of introduction. It's at this time, seeing the audience's reaction, that we get to sense if they are going to play with us, or if we are going to scare them when we come out into the audience.

The revival of Hair opened Mar 06, 2008 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. It ran for a total of 519 performances and was nominated for 8 Tony Awards. The musical won for Best Musical Revival in the 2009 season.

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