Hair Pollution
by John Simon
Commonwealth - May 17, 1968

As performed last fall at the off-Broadway Public theater, Hair was an unpretentious, charming, swinging little musical.  Not without flaws, it was nevertheless youthful, zestful, tuneful, and brimming of life.  In it's new Broadway version, it is merely fulsome.  What happened?  It would seem that the new producer was hell-bent on giving uptowners a sensational revelation of how it really is; as part of that endeavor, he hired Tom O'Horgan (of Cafe La Mama, Futz, and Tom Paine fame) as director.  Now, O'Horgan is a sort of off-off-Broadway Peter Brooks: clever, chic, and at bottom, quite commercial.  Given his first go at Broadway, he was, like the producer, out to epater les bourgeois for all he was worth (which, in my book, is not very much); but, at the same time, care had to be exercised only to titillate the middle class, not to offend it.  So, with shock and inoffensiveness as it's contradictory aims, Hair was off on an internal collision course.

Typically, nudity, perversion, four letter words were built up, whereas the story with it's anti-war but also anti-bourgeois bias was either soft-pedaled or transmogrified into stingless farce, when not, actually, thrown out altogether.  Thus there appeared throughout the original Hair a burlesque middle-class couple, who were also the hero's parents, but mostly the epitome of smug squareness.  these figures have been turned into a transvestite posing as a bourgeois with a castrato sidekick; or, in the family scene, a father and mother each in triplicate, the main third of the mother again a man in drag.  The wistfully comic and, granted, somewhat uninspired plot has yielded to something worse: pseudoimprovisatory extravaganza.  Even such a fetchingly bittersweet number as a girl hippie's lament for a lover who just yipped in and out, surrounded by all those overproduction values, loses it's fragile nostalgia.  Where gerald Freeman's original direction really scored, as in a dance number showing, in bizarre superimposition, the history of America and of Vietnam as the tragicomic slaughter of one race or religion by the next in an unending vicious circle, O'Horgan goes out of his way to make his staging gratuitously different, and succeeds in killing the point.

Some members of the original company remain very funny and endearing.  Gerome Ragni, one of the authors of the late book and lyrics, is still outrageously droll; though James Rado, his co-author and new to the cast, is pallid.  Two of the original girls, Sally Eaton and Shelley Plimpton, are irresistible: the one a nearsighted, concupiscent teddy bear; the other all ethereal poignancy.  The new leading lady, Lynn Kellogg, though pretty, has the personality of a corn flake; her sprightly and full-voiced predecessor, Jill O'Hara, is now wasting her gifts on the vacuous musical George M., which also preempted the zest of Susan Batson and of Jonelle Allen.  Galt MacDermot's music is still delicious, though the new numbers are not up to the old.  So it is a Hair both overgrown and shorn; but for those who missed it downtown, still guardedly recommended. (At the Biltmore)

Copyright Commonwealth Magazine Corp. All rights reserved.

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