Hair was the most exciting theater event of the late 1960’s. No show, drama or musical matched its energy, its irreverence and its “now” feeling. It portrayed a daring (to middle-class audiences) lifestyle that celebrated drugs, sex, spontaneous experience and a larky anti-establishment freedom.
But that was then and this is now. Hair has returned for a limited run at the New Athenaeum Theater in a production imported from California State University at Fullerton. The young people in the ensemble work hard generally sing well and do their best to sell the show. The songs still hold up well, but the vehicle just doesn’t connect with the 1990’s.
Hair is all about a motley group of hippies in New York City living the “turn on, drop out” idyll that looks do enticing in the turbulent ‘60’s. But what seemed alluring, even charming, about the flower child movement of the 1960’s doesn’t relate to the changed realities and attitudes of our own time.
There is nothing romantic about taking drugs today. Casual sex has fallen into the pit of the AIDS plague. The use of profanity and occasional homosexual references scarcely offends these days, and the nude scene that concludes the first act has lost its shock value. Even the long hair that was the emblem of the hippie generation is passé, now that even construction workers wear ponytails.
But the greatest gap between the original Hair and any contemporary revival lies in its anti-war sentiments. The Vietnam War was the engine that drove Hair in the late 1960’s. It captured the spirit of anger and rebellion many Americans felt toward this unpopular war. Today the Vietnam War resides in the history books. There isn’t any way a show in 1996 can reflect the intensity of feeling over this conflict decades after the fact. And yet the Cal State production goes out of its way to stress the war and anti-war feeling.
All these comments are based on my exposure to Hair a half dozen times: I was intoxicated by the musical at every viewing. At the New Athenaeum, the magic was gone.
What can be admired about this version is the cast’s full-tilt commitment to the show and several potent musical numbers. The title song does capture some of the flavor of the original Hair experience.
Trevor H. Olsen is a very fine Claude: confused, self-mocking, high-spirited and frightened of going off to war. Danielle Bisutti sings beautifully as Sheila and Jesse T. Swimm is a wry Woof.
This production runs two hours and 45 minutes and could probably be cut by 20 minutes.
But it’s possible that this production is as good a revival of Hair as we can expect.
Copyright The Coply news Service.