‘Hair’ players show their local acting roots

National tour reunites Boxford natives, Masconomet grads

In the spotlight at last month's 'Hair at Harvard'' symposium, Boxford natives Caren Lyn Tackett and Matt De Angelis shared insights from their roles in the revival's national touring production. In the spotlight at last month's "Hair at Harvard'' symposium, Boxford natives Caren Lyn Tackett and Matt De Angelis shared insights from their roles in the revival's national touring production. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Rich Fahey
Globe Correspondent / April 7, 2011

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BOSTON — Almost 20 years later, Matt DeAngelis and Caren Lyn Tackett have upped the ante.

The two natives of Boxford first performed together in 1992 in Masconomet Regional High’s production of “Godspell,’’ when the then-Caren Lyn Manuel was a 15-year-old sophomore, and DeAngelis was 8 and attending Spofford Pond Elementary School.

When DeAngelis attended his first professional theater production in Boston in 1995, he watched Manuel make her professional debut, as Eponine in “Les Miserables.’’

DeAngelis later became a professional actor, too, and although their paths crossed during auditions, they had not been reunited on stage until both were cast in the national touring production of “Hair,’’ the Tony Award-winning revival continuing at the Colonial Theatre in Boston through Sunday.

While Boxford has become a breeding ground for Broadway only in the past 15 years, at the regional school in Topsfield it’s old hat. Donna Murphy, a 1974 Masconomet graduate from Topsfield, has won two Tonys and an Emmy during her long acting career, and she recently had a major voice role in Disney’s animated film “Tangled.’’

Both DeAngelis and Tackett said the busloads of family and friends who have been pouring into the Colonial since the iconic musical about the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s opened on March 22 have added to the usual pressures of performing.

“Given the number of people coming in and the cost of the tickets, I don’t think either Matt or I can take a show off during the run,’’ she said, laughing.

“I was almost as nervous performing for the first time at the Colonial as I was making my Broadway debut,’’ he said.

Both sets of parents — Janice and Ralph DeAngelis and Sandy and Char lie Manuel — still live in Boxford just a couple of miles apart, and DeAngelis and Tackett kept close watch over each other’s career paths over the years.

Tackett left Emerson College for her successful “Les Miserables’’ audition, and hasn’t looked back since. Her credits include “Rent,“ “High Fidelity,’’ and “Brooklyn’’ on Broadway, an off-Broadway show, “Once Around the Sun,’’ and a number of national and international tours, as well as creating the book, songs, and lyrics for a musical, “Born Blue,’’ and doing voices for a hit cartoon series, “Winx Club,’’ carried by the Fox network.

Tackett performed in “Hair’’ during its run in Central Park in 2008 as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series, and then rejoined the show when it went on tour, taking the role of Sheila.

After graduating from Masconomet, DeAngelis attended the University of Southern Maine and the Boston Conservatory of Music. Along the way, he made stops with local ensembles such as the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport, the Riverside Theatre Works in Boston, and the since-closed Foothills Theatre in Worcester.

He was making a decent living when he got his big break, joining the Broadway company of “Hair’’ in 2009 as an understudy. When he went with the show to the West End in London, he took on the role of Woof, which he also plays in the current tour.

Both paid tribute to Masconomet drama teacher Greg West, who they said is innovative and challenges his students by doing things such as setting a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar’’ during World War II, instead of 2,000 years ago.

“I think actors sometime see someone perform a role and then just try and replicate it,’’ said West. “I like it when an actor can approach a role in a completely different way.’’

“He taught me what good theater was,’’ said DeAngelis, while Tackett said West showed her how “to think outside the box.’’

“Even though Caren and Matt were very talented, I never encouraged them to go into acting,’’ said West, who has been directing shows at Masconomet since 1991. “It’s such a fickle business, even if you have the skills. I encouraged them to audition for everything, and to have a Plan B. They both had other things they could have done.’’

DeAngelis and Tackett attended a symposium called “Hair at Harvard’’ in Cambridge on March 24, discussing the play’s place in history with the cocreator of its books and lyrics, James Rado; Diane Paulus, the revival’s director and the artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge; and Gavin Creel, who starred in “Hair’’ on Broadway and more recently in ART’s “Prometheus Bound.’’

Neither DeAngelis nor Tackett were born when “Hair,’’ with its strident antiwar message, promotion of free love, and brief nude scene, debuted in 1967.

Both actors appreciate what the play meant then and its relevance today. Tackett grew up listening to the album, a favorite of her parents.

“It was the first time the hippie culture was represented on Broadway,’’ said Tackett, who is on tour with both her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Ravyn Sioux, and husband, Jeremy Tackett.

Both actors say that Paulus and the show’s producers spent a lot of time with actors before deciding they were right for the show.

“Matt and Caren are incredible artistic talents,’’ Paulus said. “I treasure the work that I have done with them, and I am so glad that they are both a part of the ‘Hair’ tour.’’

Tackett and DeAngelis say that in addition to the sheer joy of performing in the show, it’s almost as much fun educating and enlightening those who didn’t live through the ’60s, and even those who may not agree with the political statements.

“Different generations have tapped into the experience,’’ said Tackett.

“We have a message we believe in and we’re getting to present that message every night across the country, from Boston to every Tom, Dick and Harry in Milwaukee,’’ said DeAngelis. “It doesn’t get any better than that.’’

Rich Fahey can be reached at