NOTE: This review is part of a longer column in which
Mr. Gill reviews several show.
Hair is, among other things, a tour de force of adroit press-agentry. The show, which bills itself as "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" and thus makes everything about it as clear as mud, had already opened once off-Broadway and again ugh-Broadway, at Cheetah, and its echt-Broadway opening, at the Biltmore, provided a first-night happening that was nearly as vivid on one side of the footlights as on the other. (Not that there are any footlights at musicals anymore; they have been replaced by a bristling palisade of mikes, which are so infernally sensitive that the sound of a wisp of a girl tip-toeing past them resembles the fall of a Douglas fir.) Most of the publicity about the third incarnation of Hair centered on the fact that a number of its players, both male and female, were going to strip absolutely starkers by the end of the first act. A host of broadway intellectuals assembled to observe this important cultural breakthrough, and it went off as touted, in a dim light reminiscent of a medieval cloister. Nudity risked and survived, the show pulled itself together and became an exhilarating frantic jumble of dark, light, loud, soft, sweet, and sour. hair is the best evidence so far for the McLuhan hypothesis that the medium is the message; one sits and gapes and listens and consents, and the fact is that one can't not consent to this merry mind-blowing exercise in holy gibberish. To be made to feel twice life-size and the next thing to immortal is no small boon; the barefoot, shaggy-headed troglodytes of Hair offer it as if out of an inexhaustible reservoir of youth and high spirits. Among the many songs scattered throughout the non-book are a delightful ballad called "Frank Mills" and another called "What A Piece Of Work Is Man" which has lyrics of incomparable felicity by a young comer named Shakespeare. Of the five thousand members of the cast, I particularly admired James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Lynn kellogg, and Sally Eaton. The one lunatic set is by Robin Wagner, and the costumes are by Nancy Potts. The chief hero of the occasion is Tom O'Horgan, the director, who spits in the face of Cornford's Law ("Never do anything for the first time, because it may set a precedent"). O'Horgan's Law is "Raise hell" and a joyful hell it is, well worth visiting, and even, if you have the strength, living in.
Copyright 1968 The New Yorker. All rights reserved.