Theater Reviews
by Edith Oliver
The New Yorker - November 11, 1967


I have mixed feelings about Hair but only unmixed admiration for galt MacDermot score, for Ming Cho Lee's setting, and , above all, for the engaging young members of the cast under gerald freeman's direction. Early in the show, one of them says "We're darn nice kids, and you're going to learn to love us tonight." He is more right than not. Hair is the first offering of the New York Shakespeare Festival in the beautiful old Astor Library, on Lafyette Street. Mr. Lee has put a lid on his double-decker set on the arena stage, but above it and around it the audience can see a handsome white-and-gold ceiling with large skylight windows. On the upper deck sits the orchestra - an electronic rock quintet that plays the delightful and surprisingly varied music - and the deck is supported by ladder-backed pillars for the actors and dancers to scramble up and down. The book and lyrics, by Gerome Ragni (who also plays one of the leading roles) and James rado, are original and sometimes funny. the dances, presumably by Mr. Freeman, are ingenious and sometimes handsome.

Hair is a musical comedy about life among the hippies in New York - a mixture of humor and put-on humor and wistfulness and smugness and self-pity and baloney - and life among the hippies can grow awfully tiresome after a while. And disagreeable as well; the second act is mostly taken up with a drug party - a farewell celebration for one of the characters, who has just been drafted - and it is a distressing concept. Even so, the show does have a life of it's own, which is always rare and which cancels out some of my objections. Then, too, the sight of such a patently vigorous and high-spirited bunch drooping up and down the aisles as hippies in beads, panhandling and passing out leaflets, is just ironic enough to make some inroads into the attendant depressing effects. Mr. Ragni, as Berger, the mop-headed ringleader of the group is lively and funny and completely believable. As the girl who loves Berger in an old-fashioned, transitive verb way, Jill O'Hara makes an appealing heroine and sings very well. I also admired Walker Daniels as the sad but spunky and comical young man who is about to be drafter; Maijane Maricle as his mother and a number of other female squares ("Besides disheveled, what do you want to be?"); Steve Dean, Sally Eaton, Arnold Wilkerson, and Susan Batson as an assortment of cronies; and a girl named Shelley Plimpton, making her theatrical debut as a lonesome waif, who charmingly sings a charming song, "Frank Mills". Hair simply could not have existed ten years ago, and it is conceivable that it could mystify audiences ten years from now, but it does catch, and quite successfully, one of the many moods and aspects of life in this city in 1967.

Copyright 1967 The New Yorker. All rights reserved.

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