The Bay Street Theatre’s “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is punctuated by manic comedy, biting satire and an occasional moments of deep emotion.

But this production of “Hair” is probably most notable for the sweeping breadth of the big song and dance numbers. “Hair” debuted Off-Broadway 52 years ago and was turned into a movie 40 years ago. I thought I knew the musical well, but I found surprises at every turn.

Director Jeffrey DeVincent has assembled a large, diverse, talented cast and keeps the pace moving swiftly. Music director Brandon Kaufman’s live ensemble doesn’t miss a beat as the characters move across the stage and throughout the audience in the second floor theater at Club One.

The cast tackles the play’s signature rock numbers like “Aquarius” with the required verve, but I was most impressed by those songs and moments that I didn’t expect, like Gabby Hanson’s moving rendition of “Frank Mills” in act one and the sensual take on “Walking in Space” in the powerful second act.

 

The musical’s plot is paper thin, but Christopher Stanley’s Claude serves as the moral center. Loved by the hippie tribe around him, Claude struggles to decide whether to burn his draft card or fight in Vietnam as the broader culture demands.

Stanley effectively conveys the complexities of those individual decisions, but I thought that at times the play’s more vulnerable moments were too quickly overtaken by the fast pace and comedy.

“Hair” surely doesn’t feel as subversive as it was 50 years ago, but songs like “Sodomy” led by Woof (played by the talented Zachary Tate, who shares the role with Jojo Ward) still pack a transgressive punch.

The musical’s racial themes remain complex. As Hud, Thomas Houston brings an especially jagged edge to the song “Colored Spade,” and the play is dotted with provocative cultural references to race.

There is a lot of hair in “Hair,” and a lot of skin too, but the musical’s famous nude scene was understated, touching, even chaste at the Sunday matinee I attended.

The Bay Street Theatre’s production of “Hair” continues with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 16 and 17 and at 3 p.m. on Aug. 18. General admission is $25, with choice seating available for $30. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.