Kristen Bell to Star in 'Hair' Musical at Hollywood Bowl

Ed Krieger
Adam Shankman and Kristen Bell

"I think that it still has resonance now for people who are anti-violence, or anti certain war involvements," says the actress of the Adam Shankman-directed production.

“Tune in, turn on and drop out,” said Timothy Leary, coining a phrase that became a mantra for a countercultural revolution spurred on by the havoc of war, pollution and conformity. So what a shock it was that the hippie generation grew up to usher in an unprecedented age of global warming, materialism and greed. Age of Aquarius? Try Age of Nefarious.

When Hair opened in 1968, Clive Barnes of The New York Times called it “The first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday.” So does that mean the new Hollywood Bowl production, starring Kristen BellHunter Parrish and Benjamin Walker and directed by Adam Shankman, running from Aug. 1 to 3, is the authentic voice of the day before yesterday?

“The fact that we are young people living in a culture with the age of digital media, and dealing with the NSA and Russia and Iran, it does not feel dated in any way shape or form,” Shankman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Going to war, dealing with the anxiety about who’s watching us, what are our freedoms, it just doesn’t feel dated.”

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Leary adherents today may be “tuning in” to their favorite TV shows, “turning on” the DVR and “dropping out” of the job market, but that doesn’t make a play like Hair the wrong musical for the wrong generation. The recent 2009 Broadway production garnered eight Tony nominations and a win for Best Revival without resorting to a Vietnam-for-Iraq update, as an ill-fated 2005 London production did. 

“I think that it still has resonance now for people who are anti-violence, or anti certain war involvements,” says Bell, who plays Sheila, a political activist and distaff leg of a love triangle at the center of the play. “There’s a lot of strong emotions that go along with that and I think this show, in its weird nonlinear way, attempts to show the strong feelings that are involved.”

Not generally known for her singing voice until last year’s Frozen, Bell is thrilled to test her musical-theater chops in front of a large audience. In Hair, she has three numbers, including “Good Morning Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard” and “I Believe in Love.” As a child, she trained in operatic singing and then studied musical theater at NYU, before moving to Los Angeles in 2002 and getting into film and television.

“Kristen is a Broadway baby,” says Shankman during a break in rehearsal. “I know her personally and I know about her love of that. And having voiced the lead in Frozen, it felt like a no-brainer to me.”

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Bell’s mother will be played by Beverly D’Angelo, who played Sheila in the 1979 movie version directed by Milos Foreman. As such, she brings veteran experience and leadership to a young cast including Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), R&B singer MarioJonah PlattAmber Riley (Glee) and Jenna Ushkowitz (Glee).

“When we asked Beverly to do it, it was definitely a loving wink to somebody who is probably the most famously associated with the character cause the movie was seen by so many people,” says Shankman. “But she had the comment that the play and the movie aren’t anything alike.”

With only a few days to go before opening night, the company still hasn’t rehearsed on the Bowl’s main stage, a vast venue that seems hardly suited to Broadway musicals. Suited or not, it has been the home of numerous plays in recent summers, including last year’s Chicago, directed by Brooke Shields, and previous performances of The Producers and Hairspray among others.

“The first priority here is having fun,” says Bell, who appears unconcerned about the abbreviated prep time that is part and parcel of the Bowl’s Broadway series. “It’s just about the love of doing musical theater and all coming together and trying to piece this into something that’s watchable.”