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If only good intentions were golden, Hair, at Joseph Papp's new Florence Sutro Anspacher Theater, would be great. As it is it is merely pretty good; an honest attempt to jolt the American musical into the nineteen-sixties, and a musical that is trying to relate to something other than Sigmund Romberg.
If it had a story - which to be honest it hasn't - that story would be about the young disenchanted, turned on by pot, switched off by the draft, living and loving, the new products of affluence, the dispossessed dropouts. That, if it had a story, would be what Hair is about.
But Hair is sparing storywise - as someone might say. A boy wants to get to bed with a certain girl before he is drafted - yet that is not what hair is all about. Much more, it is a mood picture of a generation - a generation dominated by drugs, sex, and the two wars, the one about color and the one about Vietnam. Not that these two are made so separate. As someone says: "The draft is white people sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people." Well, at least the description is colorful.
The book and lyrics for Hair, described as an American tribal love-rock musical, are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado , with music by Galt MacDermot. The intention is clear enough - to show a generation that has freaked out of the American "bedrock foundation of baths and underarm deodorant." The picture given, however, is only honest in parts, for the authors have only little or no interest in dramatic structure, they are also easy prey for the first shiver of theatrical exaggeration that strikes them.
The piece has, however, two sovereign qualities. The first is the music by Mr. MacDermot, which is rock and swingy, and while not especially original in itself, at least does not sound like a deliberate pastiche of Rogers and Hammerstein. There was a rough, tough and lusty quality to the music that went far in compensating for it's gaucheness. The other quality is simply the likeability and honesty of it's cast.
The director, Gerald Freeman, has not been able to impose any unity on the show - this Hair is strictly untrimmed - but he has helped to bring out the natural vitality of both the piece and the very young performers.
Protesting, laughing, fighting, loving, rebel-without-causing, these young people spill across the stage with a sprawling, grinning arrogance. They seem to believe totally in what they are doing, which is always wonderful to see in the theater, and their rather uncivil disobedience is made sharp and to the point.
Dancing, singing, swinging, prancing, the open stage becomes their arena for protest - and though reality is always quite a long way away, it is always just near enough for you to be uncomfortably aware how far away it is. This is a pity, but Hair is still very much worth seeing.
The cast is very good and very even. Gerome Ragni (one of the co-authors) is like a psychedelic teddy- bear as Berger, and as the antihero and anti-heroine, Walker Daniels and Jill O'Hara have a straggly, struggling charm that is very appealing.
Oddly enough, charm is perhaps the key to Hair. The enthusiasm of it's actors, the zest of it's music, and the very bustle of it's somewhat purposeless action, are the things that make it attractive.
So much for Hair, but before leaving it did seem strange that the audience last night - and although today is the first day upon which reviews could appear, the show has been running for two weeks - was predominantly middle-aged. I should have thought this a show that might have brought some young people to the theater - especially with seats priced at $2.50 top.
And, of course, finally, this brings me to the theater itself, the new-old, and very welcome Florence Sutro Anspacher Theater. My friend Ada Louise Huxtable is talking about it architecturally, so merely let me say how welcome it is as an institution. This will be a public theater for Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. This festival has become over the years one of new York's greatest Summer attractions, and most worthwhile theatrical enterprises. It is great to welcome it in out of the rain. new York needs theatrical institutions like a man needs bread.
Hair, rock 'n' roll musical. Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado; music by Galt MacDermot; staged by gerald Freeman; setting by Ming Cho Lee; costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting by Martin Aronstein; musical director John Morris; production stage manager Russell McGrath; Presented by New York Shakespeare Festival, produced by Joseph Papp; associate producer Bernard Gersten.
Dionne - Jonelle Allen
Dad - Ed Crowley
Claude - Walker Daniels
Woof - Steve Dean
Jeannie - Sally Eaton
Mom - Marijane Maricle
Sheila - Jill O'Hara
Crissy - Shelley Plimpton
Berger - Gerome Ragni
Hud - Arnold Wilkerson
Susan - Susan Batson
Linda - Linda Compton
Suzannah - Suzannah Evans
Lynda - Lynda Gudde
Louise - Jane Levin
Alma - Alma Robinson
Charlie - Warren Burton
Thommie - Thommie Walsh
Bill - William Herter
Paul - Paul Jabara
Bob - Bob Johnson
Jim - Edward Murphy Jr.
Copyright 1967 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.