NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

The Pain, Passion and Politics of Hair in rockin’ new musical Love, Peace & Hairgrease


Thaydra Gray stars in the new Nova Scotia musical Love, Peace & Hairgrease at Alderney Landing Theatre through Sunday. (Daniel Wittnebel)


Just saw the new musical Love, Peace & Hairgrease by East Preston’s Tara L. Taylor with over 200 high school students, who brought the roof down as the cast sang their hearts out in a tale of troublesome kinks in the hair and the soul.

This two-hour co-production by Eastern Front Theatre and the Charles Taylor Dance & Media Arts Association, at Alderney Landing Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 30, overflows with life, love and good humour in a life-affirming, coming-of-age tale about identity and the courage to be one’s self.

A fantastic, enthusiastic, energetic Atlantic Canadian cast of singers and actors perform an excellent score of jazz, R & B, soul, gospel and pop with powerful songs from affecting duets to hand-clapping, body-bumping group numbers with strong choreography by Tracy Fanous. (Book and lyrics are by Taylor with music by Taylor, Charity Stairs, Ross Unger and Mark Amadeus Flowerdew, who as music director leads a lovely, jazzy five-piece band.)

Love, Peace & Hairgrease is the story of Lauren, a hair stylist just about to open her own salon. In a radio interview with her friend, the vivacious Angel, she goes back in time to a childhood largely spent at her grandmother’s salon where relaxing and straightening black hair were the norm.

Both her grandmother and mother scold her into keeping her hair “proper” but the Natural Hair Movement is a’coming.

Just as this seems to be a purely female story Taylor introduces Lauren’s rowdy young male contemporaries, striking a good balance between male and female (acceptable to the teens in the audience who loved the guys and the cheesy, melodramatic love scenes – as did I).

Louis Anthony Bryan as Joey and Kalin Glasgow as Dustin are engaging and have great dance moves. Garry Williams, strong in both singing and acting, stars as Jim, the gay man rescued so many years ago by Lauren’s grandmother and now a part of the family and the hairdressing business.

But let’s be clear this story belongs to the women with powerhouse performances vocally by lead actor Thaydra Gray as Lauren and, in terms of character, by Julia Williams as grandmother Gladys, an accomplished, pioneering businesswoman who won’t take any guff though she is kind and generous. Williams incarnates her warmth, humour and heart. Madeleine Tench excels as Angel and Natasha Thomas, playing Lauren’s mother, is show-stopping in her stunning soprano in a gospel song.

Love, Peace & Hairgrease, directed for vitality and good placement by Tara Taylor, needs some narrative tweaking; it is repetitive at times, jumps around and is not always clear about time and place. Possibly it’s intended to have a musical, non-linear structure. (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ new show on Basquiat and music in Montreal emphasizes how his repetitive images and words within one artwork are constructed like jazz and hip-hop.)

On the design team, some of whom were mentored by local professionals, are set designer Tonya “Sam’Gwan” Paris, who has created two beautifully authentic salon spaces; costume designer Martina Brooks, with a great variety in style and colour; lighting designer Alison Crosby, with an accomplished, poetic design that keeps the eye where it should be; sound designer Deryl Amenya and stage manager Patricia Vinluan with illustrations by Carmahn McCalla.

Taylor, a playwright, screenwriter, director and CBC Information Morning cultural columnist, also owns a chemical-free natural hair salon, The Braiding Lounge Salon.

She was inspired to write this musical by, as she writes in the program, “the strong Black queens I worked for at the hair salons, Crowning Glory Hair Studio PLUS and Unity Hair Services.

“I remember during my time in these fabulous salons, meaningful and healing conversations along with singing and celebration and I knew it had to be on stage!”

She developed Love, Peace & Hairgrease through Eastern Front Theatre’s Emerging Playwright’s Unit, as well as through the Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program, with a showing at the National Arts Centre.

Speaking to the high school students before the show she urged them to write, act, sing, direct and produce because they are the next generation of storytellers.


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