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Hair is beautiful. Now, nearly a year after the opening, the cast at the Biltmore Theater is almost entirely new and Hair tribes are playing in London, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, and probably elsewhere. Also, nearly a year after the opening, the show has a kind of radiant freshness. It still seems as though the whole thing is swiftly, deftly and dazzlingly being improvised before your very eyes.
First about the new cast. Gerome Ragni and James Rado - who wrote the non-book and the sweet lyrics - have now dropped out, and are growing their hair in the fertile grasslands of California. Their replacements, Barry McGuire as berger and Joseph Campbell Butler as Claude, are great.
Mr. McGuire is a friendly, unredeemable hunk of hippie, with a twisted grin, an air of purity, and a neat Tarzan way with a rope. Mr. Butler, weaker and more sensitive, has great charm and aplomb. To be honest both of the boys rip out the numbers with rather stronger voices than did Messrs. Ragni and Rado of blessed tribal memory - but then I presume that the newcomers are not adept hands with non-books and sweet lyrics.
Lynn kellogg has also left, a fact that will cause enormous pain to my friend Richard Watts Jr. On the first night Miss kellogg gave Mr. Watts a rose, and he has never been the same since. Nicer, happier and better - but not the same. But I have news for mr. Watts - Miss Kellogg has been replaced by Heather MacRae, equally gifted as a florist, who sings like Merman (and Merman would have been great in Hair) and looks like a blonde little dolly-girl.
Of the rest Shelley Plimpton is still adorably searching for Frank Mills, while Paul Jabara - a naturally gifted something if ever I saw one - has by now lost so many inhibitions that he will soon have to be paying psychiatrists to restore some. I liked also Donnie Burks, as the new Hud, taking over from the tragically killed Lamont Washington.
Seeing Hair again did raise a few questions. It's success stems from two things. First its prefect reflection of a generation that seems in no mood to lower it's voice - it knows what whispering can do to people. Second the music by Galt MacDermot and the lyrics by Ragni and Rado. This is pop-pop, or commercial pop, with little aspirations to art - a clever and honest dilution of what is happening in pop music. Fundamentally it is pure Broadway - but Broadway 1969 rather than Broadway 1949.
Then I found myself thinking about so many of the misconceptions about Hair which seem to have risen among the great section of the public who have never seen the show.
People say that it attracts only middle-aged suburbanites (although they never go on to explain what is so wicked about being a middle-aged suburbanite) and has no appeal to youth. This is a lie. At last Wednesday's matinee in a packed orchestra, I myself, at 41, was among the oldest two dozen in the audience. I felt like a senior citizen.
Also, people say the show is dirty. Rubbish. It is as clean as Tide and not half so chemical. Members of the cast do occasionally use naughty words, but in a quite childlike fashion. They do - for one moment of social and esthetic revolt - take off their clothes if they wish to. But this is not obscene. It is also totally asexual. If you are proposing to go to Hair for sexual stimulation you don't need a theater ticket, you need treatment.
I realize i have not mentioned Tom O'Horgan, the director. This is totally justified because it is Mr. O'Horgan's ultimate triumph that he disappears into the background, and all his work to make an illusion seem like reality is so successful that you can forget the man who created the illusion.
So go and see Hair. If you have just one show to
see on Broadway try and make it this one. If you hate it, I cannot
promise to give you your money back. But I rather doubt if we could
ever become friends.
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