Three distinct performances take Ritz patrons into the past for close up and specialized looks back at American society and its impact through music, film documentary and live on stage deliveries from top recording artists who have left their mark on the history of these three specific stops on the timeline through the arts.
The season opens with one single performance of the musical that broke all barriers when it opened on Broadway in 1968, delivering the messages of a new counterculture through dialogue as well and music.
“HAIR” was an instant hit when it debuted on Broadway, and continues to extend its flair to audiences world-wide.
“HAIR” will be performed at The Ritz Theatre Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. and this is a show to be sure and put on your list, said George Culver, executive director for The Ritz Theatre and Antique Talladega.
“Four and a half decades have passed since this societal explosion of the 1960s and there are many among us now who don’t have the historical perspective of the ear,” he said. “This is a show that provides an understanding of the ‘hippie’ culture of that time and how it has had such a lasting influence.”
The musical score has become timeless. With hits that have continued through the years such as the title song “Hair,” along with others such as “Aquarius” and “Good Morning Starshine.”
The concept for “HAIR” was conceived by actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni. The two met in 1964 when they performed together in the Off-Broadway flop “Hang Down Your Head and Die,” and they began writing “HAIR” together in late 1964.
The main characters were designed to be autobiographical, with Rado's Claude being a pensive romantic and Ragni's Berger an extrovert. Their close relationship, including its volatility, was reflected in the musical.
Rado has since explained, "We were great friends. It was a passionate kind of relationship that we directed into creativity, into writing, into creating this piece. We put the drama between us on stage."
Rado described the inspiration for “HAIR” as "a combination of some characters we met in the streets, people we knew and our own imaginations. We knew this group of kids in the East Village who were dropping out and dodging the draft, and there were also lots of articles in the press about how kids were being kicked out of school for growing their hair long."
Rado recalled there was such excitement in the streets and the parks and within the hippie areas, and transferring it to the stage was the goal.
The musical does include adult material, and Culver said he encourages parental guidance for those under the age of 18.
Tickets for this performance are $22.
There’s an entirely different replay of a musical era that took place right here in Alabama in the place that became a hotspot for talent starting in the late 1950s.
This one is presented through the power of a documentary, “Muscle Shoals: The Incredible True Story of a Small Town With a Big Sound,” and will be the premier showing of the film in East Alabama, Culver said.
What this production offers is a hands on look at the performers and the music that was embedded in the recording outlets in this north Alabama town.
“This film was the recipient of instant national acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival screening in 2013,” Culver said.
“And what I find so important is how this all took place so close to us.
As the story of Muscle Shoals goes, the FAME Studio was founded in 1959 and black and white musicians were brought together to create music that has had lasting effects for decades, Culver said.
Musical greats that include artists such as Aretha Franklin, Greg Allman, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Mick Jagger, Wilson Picket, Steve Winwood and so many others tell about the allure they found in Muscle Shoals and of the years spent making the music that is now a collection of national treasures.
An added perspective for this presentation is a visit from performer Jimmy Johnson, who is a vital presence in the film, and will hold a question and answer session following the film. Johnson is an inductee of the Alabama Hall of Fame and his guitar is displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The film will have one showing at The Ritz, Friday, March 14 at 7 p.m. and tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for student admission.
The series winds up with a performance of “The Miracle Worker,” portraying the story of Helen Keller’s journey to overcome being both hearing and visually impaired in a time that wasn’t technologically advantageous for people who were blind and or deaf.
The Montana Repertory Company brings this production to The Ritz, which is part of the company’s national tour with the play.
A native of Tuscumbia, the story of Keller and her inspirational teacher, Annie Sullivan, is told and recounts the journey the two took together to open the world of communication to the young Keller.
“These scenes reflect the emotional and historic journey that these two people took through what was virtually unknown at the time,” Culver said.
There is one public performance of “The Miracle Worker” Thursday, April 10 at 7 p.m. and tickets are $22 for adults and $8 for students.
The visit form The Montana Repertory Company will include an arts education workshop conducted by the cast members for students at The Alabama School for the Deaf. There will also be a second non-public performance of “The Miracle Worker” for students and state-wide constituencies of The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.
Single season tickets are available for $48 and for $96 for packages of two tickets for each performance.
It is also time to consider Friends of the Ritz membership renewals, with contributions which are tax deductible.
Memberships include the level of $50 for Family Friends, $100 for Special Friends, $200 for Friends Extraordinaire, $500 for Ritz Patrons and $1,000 for Legacy Benefactors.