Review by Tulis McCall
(31 March 2009)
This wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Really. I saw Hair at the Delacorte this summer and it made my face hurt. I know a LOT of people who loved it. I thought it was boring as a box of dirt.
This time out, something was different. There is new casting with Gavin Creel as Claude, our hero, and Cassie Levy as Sheila, the lead femme. I’m not certain how much this affected the production. What did change dramatically was the venue. Somehow, bringing this production into a formal setting has amplified its message. Seeing a bunch of kids in rags, tie dyed t-shirts, and flowing cotton dresses on the stage of a Broadway theatre is a visual mind bender.
Hair is not so much of a story as it is a “Be In”. Kids on the street are looking for something to cling to besides their hormones. It is the mid 1960’s and there is a war on television, after all, and there is a little thing known as the Draft. This band of merry makers has a feeling that there is something more besides hanging out and getting stoned, but the alternative in the form of the adults they see is so very not appealing. They got life, they got hair, they got drugs and they got Walt Whitman. And they got nowhere to go. The only one among them who does makes the Army his destination and his destiny is tragic.
What does work in this production is the intensity of the cast. Perhaps because they are confined, they are focused on each other, but also on us. There is a bit more audience contact than needed – how close do you want to come to a stranger’s nether regions, hmnnnn? – which made me glad I was not seated on the aisle. But when the cast is not busy messing around in the house, they are very busy on stage as they give the very clear impression that they would LIKE to be messing with us. It works. You even consider believing that Will Swenson is a teenager and just got kicked out of high school. Lovely he is. Teenager he is not. None of the actors are. They are loud and passionate and urgent, though, which reminds you of teenagers. And of course they are miked to the hilt so that you can’t tell who is singing in the Tribe numbers unless they are pointing at themselves.
The intensity of the 1960’s is still not quite there. I remember the Draft. I remember the year they decided to do a lottery using people’s birthdays. 366 dates were tossed into a barrel and on December 1, 1969, were picked out one at a time. Those with the first dates picked were certain to be drafted. I was with my boyfriend in his dorm and we were listening to it on the radio. The entire campus was silent. The first date was pulled from the basket and read. September 14th. Then the second and the third. The only thing that broke the silence on campus was the sound of young men screaming when they heard their birth date being called.
The last few scenes of Hair, go some distance to capture the intensity missing throughout most of the show. Life is pulled apart for these “kids” as Claude leaves them, the country, and then the planet. In the face of failure, the Tribe holds on and begs us to let the sun shine in.
These days the audience is filled with people who are in their 40’s and were born to the contemporaries of these characters. They are bringing children of their own to see this retro evening. As I was watching the Draft Card burning scene I wondered how many of those sets of parents and children recognized what was going on, or knew what it meant when the Buddhist monk mimed bursting into flames, or had ever heard of the Waverly. No matter, I guess. They came, they saw, they boogied down with the cast at Curtain Call Something will stick to someone. I hope.
Tie-dyed T-shirts, psychedelic flower power, long hair, peace and love have been recreated on Broadway this season in the 40th anniversary of the rock musical that started it all "Hair." With an energetic cast who gleefully breaks down the "fourth wall" to run through the aisles and engage the audience in its pulsating songs, the "Age of Aquarius" has dawned once more.
Berger, Claude, Sheila, Dionne and the rest of the "Tribe" cavort onstage with the same abandon as the original, giving us a fresh look at what have become rock standards: "Let the Sunshine In," "Easy to Be Hard," "Good Morning Starshine," and of course, "Hair."
The free love tribe that created be-ins in Central Park, anti-war protests, and draft card burnings lacks the urgent frenzy of the original, primarily because our perspective and our lives have dramatically changed. Even the full-cast nudity that sent shock waves through America in the 1967 production has lost that shock value.
But some issues have not disappeared which makes this revival timely. Now, 40 years later, we've got another war and young people are coming home maimed or in coffins. While burning one's draft card now has only historical significance, the anti-war sentiments and realities that are part of "Hair" grab our attention.
Claude's intense conflict between his duty to his parents, his country, and himself are highlighted in "Where Do I Go." Young people like Crissy, Sheila and Berger who lack direction still struggle to find their place in what seems to them a decadent, hypocritical world. Not to mention racism and ethnic slurs encountered by Hud as he fights to maintain his identity in "I'm Black." As Hud rambles through all the names he¹s been called, one he now proudly adds to his litany is "President of the United States."
Will Swenson as Berger exudes the sexuality of a young man seeking love and understanding even if he can't quite grasp all the consequences of his actions. Cassie Levy as Sheila is the conscience of the Tribe, and Kacie Sheik as Jeanie reminds us of the lonely followers who just need to be accepted and loved. The cast is talented and embraceable. Make sure you go onstage and "Let the Sunshine In" as you dance with the cast.
(Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus)
BEN BRANTLEY for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Emotionally rich revival "
JOE DZIENMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY says, "A smile-inducing celebration of life and freedom, it's highly communicable."
ELISABETH VICENTELLI for NEW YORK POST says, "Hair" has emerged triumphant."
JEREMY GERARD for BLOOMBERG says, "The most exciting new show in town, not so much a breath of spring air as a jolt of adrenaline. "
ELYSA GARDNER for USA TODAY says, "Who can is advised to tune in and turn on, and be prepared for an exhilarating ride."
LINDA WINNER for NEWSDAY says, "An important, lovable, achingly timely piece"
DAVID SHEWARD for BACK STAGE says, "This company puts out enough voltage to light up all of Broadway."
ROBERT FELDBERG for THE RECORD says, "The exuberant revival of the iconic rock musical gives Broadway a welcome jolt of energy. It’s also lots of fun."
DAVID COTE for TIME OUT NEW YORK says, "As directed with tireless inventiveness by Diane Paulus and sensually choreographed by Karole Armitage, 'Hair' may be essentially retro, but this savvy production speaks to a new generation that must deal with sex, drugs and war."
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY for says, "If this explosive production doesn't stir something in you, it may be time to check your pulse."
"Hair" is the only show that I've ever seen that felt like an experience. The cast aka The Tribe is excellent, the production is fantastic and the songs sound better then ever. The shows themes (Sex, War, Drugs, Race) are as relevant today as they were forty years ago. The best part is the bond that the Tribe forms with the audience. It resonates with everyone long after they've left the theater. I urge all theatergoers to order tickets, participate in the show and dance in the finale. You will never forget the "Hair" experience.
(A comment from BobsViews-a fan of the Musical)