by Sean Taylor
I spent August 4th, 2017, listening, fifty years after its original production, to the first step that “Hair” took at the Great Star Theater. Does it hold up? Is it a dance step or a forced march? Is it embarrassed after all these years? It certainly had a spring in its step. The crowd seemed happy.
There was the possibility that the stage would prove too small for such a large ensemble, or that the feet of peace would trip over themselves in eager naiveté. Yet, the nonstop action of it all was a pleasing blast of nostalgia, which has its place.
In the theater, before the show, I came to know a nose full of popcorn salt and warm butter, and the talk that played upon my ears was from a half century ago. Two older women seated next to me swooned over the memory of their first kiss. Once the opening lights lit up, I didn’t feel far from Haight Ashbury, the mecca of a similar movement. The youthfulness of the production was its most prevalent trait, true to the nature of the musical. If “Hair” is tribal, it is a tribe in its infancy. The characters were portrayed with straightforward honesty, though often bickering over who takes home whom. Soon enough their entangled brief arguments were interrupted by the need to denounce the war, the man, and the system.
In this production, the setting is an abandoned theater in downtown New York where a tribe of free young radicals try to forge a new way of life through music, drugs, and self liberation.
The songs blended it all together seamlessly, perhaps too seamlessly. I felt as if I was drowning in just one constant emotion: arrogant hope, all teenage egoism. I think perhaps if the production slowed down it would be able to hit more notes.
Of course, being a child of the eighties I am not shocked at long hair on a man as a symbol of rebellion. I understand it, but I’m not sure I can truly feel what it meant when “Hair” was new.
The solo songs that address the longings of each character are the backbone of this production. These ballads managed to slow down the rampaging escalation of energy on the crowded stage. They also showed us the strengths of these unique individuals. This specific individuality of each player is an important pillar of the production’s concept: the value of selfhood as an antidote to the sheeplike loss of individuality as the young go off to war.
In youth, we scream and bicker at the powers that be, we sing and get high in protest over the status quo. The tribal musical “Hair” may have been the first Broadway celebration of such an avant-garde revolt. In its current incarnation, the result seems to be untrained, inexperienced, but full of heart. It is something worth hearing, and quite fun to imagine or remember the joys of the 60s, to be drowned out in the landscape of raging hormones and marijuana smoke. Hair is a celebration, of being happy-go-lucky in the face of stale convention, for the sake of peace, love, and music.
Or, as the song (“Good Morning Starshine”) would have it: “Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy, la la la la lo.”
“Hair” plays at the Great Star Theater from August 4 through August 26. For further information, click here.
Rating *** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Hair,” book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Music by Galt MacDermot. Director: Jonathan Rosen. Choreographer: Jennifer Lee Ho. Music Director: John Hollis. Vocal Director: Nicole Faghihi. Costume Designer: Richard Gutierrez. Lighting Designer: Jonathan Rosen. Sound Designer: Lish Lash.
Alysia: Alysia Beltran. Anthony: Anthony Maglio. Austin: Austin Yu. Berger: David Erik Peterson. Brandon: Brandon Brooks. Claude: Domonic Tracy. Crissy: Jackie Bonsignore. Dionne: Marla Cox. Earle: Earle Alfred Paus. Edgar: Eduardo Vega. Hud: Dave J Abrams. Isa: Isa Musni. JC: John Charles Quimpo. Jeannie: Danni Horwitz. Raquel: Raquel Earle. Samantha: Samantha Rasler. Sheila: Corrie Farbstein. Suzannah: Ana Hansen. Woof: Pablo Soriano. Margaret Mead: Ana Hansen. Hubert: John Charles Quimpo.
Drums: John Hollis. Piano: Nicole Fagihi. Bass: Jeff Wood. Guitar: Devan Bleyle. Flute, Clarinet: Keith Leung. Baritone Sax: Jerome Holmes. Trumpet: Jesse Sanchez. Trumpet: Jarod Flores. Percussion: Yuning Ling, Catie Yagher.