Eye on Theatre: Heroic Hair By JOHN SIMON

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SIMON_HAIR Simon_John-pencil drawing Human hair, as we know, grows even on corpses; the 1967 musical Hair is resuscitated every few years and will not die. It has been seen off and on Broadway, as a movie, semi-staged at Encores!, over in London, outdoors in Central Park, on Broadway again, then performed by a touring national company. This Hair would grow even on a cadaver, let alone in a perfectly respectable national company.

That is what we are getting now for a couple of summer months on Broadway before it resumes its travels. The current cast is assembled from understudies of the Broadway revival, which essentially replicated the Park production, augmented by members of the London mounting. Like human hair, the show with music by Galt MacDermot and book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, is ubiquitous and very close to indestructible.

It was arguably the first rock musical and ancestor to the legion that derives from it. If you realize, as you most likely do, that it is about the counterculture, long-haired hippies, free love, drug consumption, draft-card burning, and brief onstage nudity, you know pretty much all there is to know.

A tribe of Village hippies is fronted by Berger, a wild high-school dropout, and Claude, a gentler draftee. Both are variously involved with the sensitive Sheila and the pregnant Jeanie. Claude’s reactionary parents also appear, as does Margaret Mead with a nerdy friend, Hubert. There are also Mick Jagger-worshiping Woof and dreamy Crissie, and such energetic blacks as Donnie and Hud. Some of the song numbers are “Hashish,” “Sodomy,” and “Hare Krishna,” and such classics in the making as “Good Morning Starshine” and the concluding “Let the Sunshine In,” which, whether or not it snags the sunshine, lets in the audience in to dance onstage with the cast.

The original Berger and Claude were Ragni and Rado, seldom equaled and never surpassed. Even so, Central Park’s Berger, Will Swenson, and Claude, Jonathan Groff, deserve appreciative mention, the former repeating on Broadway, the latter replaced, somewhat less charismatically, by Gavin Creel. Now we have Swenson’s understady, Steel Burkhardt, and another rerturnee, Paris Remillard, as impressive principals.

Various other roles are also well handled by Kacie Sheik (Jeanie), Caren Lyn Tackett (Sheila), Matt de Angelis (Woof), Phyre Hawkins (Dionne) and Darius Nichols (Hud). All are fine, save Kaitlin Kiyan as a Chrissy unable to equal the original’s Shelley Plympton, who brought down the house with the nostalgic ballad, “Frank Mills.”

Diane Paulus’s direction and Karole  Armitage’s choreography hit the spot; Scott Pask’s deliberately ramshackle set and Michael McDonald’s circusy costumes are likewise assets. Kevin Adams’s lighting is aptly unafraid of dimness and even a blackout, and the onstage orchestra does not miss a trick of MacDermot’s racy orchestration.

These days when the economic crisis significantly affects also our theater, it is invigorating to behold a cast of thirty aptly conveying multitudes. For Hair is really about a major societal phenomenon, about all races cohabiting in both senses of the word, about a youth movement that shook things up with pacifism, polymorphism and impudence, and which swept a generation and, indeed, a country.

Most of this the current production captures and commandingly conveys. Power to its people!

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review,New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.

eHeziEye on Theatre: Heroic Hair By JOHN SIMON

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