By Gary Murray
Starring Steel Burkhardt, Matt DeAngelis, Phyre Hawkins, Kaitlin Kiyan, Darius Nichols, Aleque Reid, Paris Remillard and Caren Lyn Tachett
Book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Diane Paulus
The original production of Hair was a 1967 counter-culture play that glorified the hippie movement. Making its way to Broadway in 1968, it ran for 1750 performances. There was a very successful West End run and loads of regional interpretations. The feature film was made in 1979. The Winspear Opera House is host to the current revival, which won more than a few awards in the last few years.
The play opens with a giant slow moving moon projected in a sea of green. The first number “Aquarius” shows the rather large cast in all their hippie glory, with long hair and colorful costumes, The stage has as a centerpiece an old truck, with the rock band on and near the vehicle. The stage holds both the cast and the rock orchestra complete with horns. At the beginning, the brass could not find the right key or syncopations, but they did get their collective playing abilities in sync after a few sour notes.
The cast travels down into the audience with the Tribe of hippies messing with the patrons. Leading the insanity is Berger (Steel Burkhardt). He has this long flowing mane more along the lines of a lion. There is no problem with Berger taking off his jeans and showing his backside to the audience. This happens more than once with the character. His number “Donna” is a bit of a cheeky fun very much for adults.
The first few numbers “Hashish”, “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade” give the audience a good idea of where the characters stand on issues and the basic tenets of the movement where anything goes. They are all about free love and breaking the rules of sex, drugs and rock & roll. The major focus of Hair is of Claude (Paris Remillard) trying to decide if he wants to follow the conventions of the older generation and go to Viet Nam or follow the youth and burn his draft card.
The big show-stopper of the entire first act has to be “Hair”. It was a hit recording and the cast does it justice. It generates the biggest applause break of the entire production. The song has evolved from a counterculture statement of individuality to semi-patriotic rant for individualism.
I found that “Easy to be Hard” the most touching moment of the entire work. Caren Lyn Tackett takes the music & lyrics and turns them into something more intimate. It is a perfect resonance of how an individual can communicate an idea to the audience. It is a shame that such moments were few and far between.
Most of Act II is dedicated to a large drug trip that Claude experiences. He goes through different parts of history with ironic touches. The play ends with Claude, hair cut and in uniform, with the Tribe not recognizing him. Everyone can guess the ending, which is a ‘downer’ before the entire cast breaks into “Let the Sunshine In” which is now more of an ironic tribute. The entire play almost collapses under the weight of its ideology. The very end has the cast encouraging everyone in the audience to come up on stage and revel in the music and madness of Hair, a trip that few actually attempted.
A large part of the audience was made-up of former hippies who reveled in the counter-culture aspects of the play while not realizing that they have sold out those same principles. It is more along the lines of seeing a dinosaur rock band playing all the songs that made them famous decades ago, living in the almost forgotten past, trying to spark a memory that has faded into history. At times, the entire blend of young people trying to relive memories for the old fogies was just sad.
One has to question how relevant Hair is in the 21st century. There is no examination of the human spirit, no universal truth. The play comes across between naïve and blissfully ignorant. There is no true story arc with Hair. It becomes more of a loosely incoherent series of ideas strung together in a musical montage. There are a good number of laughs built within the context of the show, some intentional others unintentional. At times the audience is laughing at the hippies and not with them.
Hair is not so much a great work of art as it is a backward reflection of a world that was never as cool as those who lived it make it out to be. It is a nostalgia trip for the patrons, no longer the ground breaking musical experience.