Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock
Previews Start March 6, 2009
Show Opens March 31, 2009
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
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
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
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
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
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!
- $122.00; $252.00 Premium 212-239-6200
Hirschfeld Theatre|302 West 45th Street