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Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Previews Start March 6, 2009
Show Opens March 31, 2009
Open Run
Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Broadway, in the last decade, has seen an onslaught of unnecessary revivals because playing it safe is the way to go. Seriously, just how many more incarnations of Guys & Dolls, Grease and Gypsy do we really need? (Don’t get me wrong, the LuPone Gypsy was a seminal event, but unless Streisand wants to do it, let’s wait a century or so before we dust that one off again!)

There should a damn good reason to revive a show, not just because “the known” sells better or “old fashioned” appeals to the tourists.

This year the revivals seem to outnumber the original work once again. How sad. Yet, one musical revival is actually the most refreshing, timely and vital pieces of theatre to come along in years. It’s the reason shows should be revived: to introduce a new generation to a masterpiece of its day—and to do so in a strikingly reinventive way.

When Hair first opened at the Public Theater in 1967, the Vietnam War was raging. Despite rising discontent, President Johnson seemed hellbent on “winning” no matter the cost. In 1967, 475,000 troops were in Vietnam with 80,000 casualties reported. The anti-war movement was in full force with protesters rallying in every major city in the U.S. Young people, in particular, seemed to be questioning the establishment as well as experimenting with drugs, sex and, yes, rock and roll. Their parents way of life felt dated and downright detrimental.

The idea that a musical as radical and representative of the actual feeling of the times could bow on Broadway (in 1968) was insane. The notion that it would be a huge hit and would introduce music into our culture that would influence artists for decades to come was nothing short of miraculous.

Four decades later--as is often the case--the counterculture of the 1960s has become the acceptable: the norm. Just take a look at the mega-star appearing onstage just a few blocks away in 33 Variations: the controversial Queen of anti-war activism herself, Jane Fonda! And even the unforgiving right-wing fossils that are constantly besmirching her couldn’t wrangle a dozen idiots for a pathetic protest back in February. In the late 60s and early 70s, Fonda’s vociferous and fervent outcries and her extreme behavior were indicative of a growing majority of Americans who did not want to be a part of destroying the lives of foreigners that had done nothing to us. Ironically, we can fast-forward forty years and see that sometimes we truly do not learn from our mistakes.

This ebullient new production of Hair opens after the Bush mess that has shamefully marked the new millennium. A new leader has taken office and there’s a promise of hope on the horizon. We hope, anyway. Despite this fact, the production feels new and exciting and full of—forgive the sappiness-- love.

My only familiarity with Hair, beyond the cast recording, was Milos Forman’s rousing 1979 film version starring Treat Williams. By that time, major plot changes were made and many key songs were cut. And while I love the film, it’s remarkably sanitized, has little bite and feels less universal than it should.

That cannot be said for the genius revival currently rocking the Al Hirschfeld Theater--direct from a successful run last year in Central Park.

More than simply a portrait of a time, this incarnation, directed by the gifted Diane Paulus, taps directly into the feelings we all have or have had about becoming adults, taking responsibility and, most importantly, relating to one another—mind, body and spirit.

From the brilliantly enveloping opening number, “Age of Aquarius” until the transcendent ending, Hair explores who we are versus whom we’d like to be.

With a masterful and deceptively simple book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado (who also wrote the fantastic and fascinating lyrics) and multi-genre music by Galt MacDermot, Hair follows Claude, Berger and their gaggle of Central Park dwellers as they search for “peace, love, freedom, happiness” amidst a world that seems to stand for the opposite.

The cast is near perfect.

Will Swenson is mesmerizing as the enigmatic Berger. His performance is infectious. I get the feeling a Broadway star is seriously born!

Gavin Creel is so good and so real as Claude that when he makes a life-altering decision at the end of Act One, the audience is both horrified and empathetic.

Swenson and Creel create such a loving bond with each other that this Hair could easily be seen as a love story between two men caught up in the crossfire of the blood-thirsty, power-mad world around them. And whether you see their relationship as platonic or otherwise, the effect is still emotionally explosive.

Sasha Allen has such magical vocals that when she opens the show with the anthem “Age of Aquarius” I felt like I was understanding the song for the very first time.

There are so many wondrous musical moments in Hair; one of my favorites is Claude’s hallucination sequence. Paulus invites us into the mind-altered world of a boy fighting his adult-ness and raging against the society that’s forcing it upon him.

I cannot recommend this grandfather of Rent enough. There is finally a revival worth reviving on Broadway.

This is a Hair for the ages!

Tickets $37.00 - $122.00; $252.00 Premium 212-239-6200 800-432-7250

Al Hirschfeld Theatre|302 West 45th Street






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