It took Hair, a transplanted rock carnival from Off-Broadway, to bring the Broadway musical stage to vibrant life last night. Opening at the Biltmore Theatre, tricked up as a psychedelic wonderland for the occasion, the entertainment makes enough of 30 bold and pulsating songs (music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado) to fire any listener including this square. It's fortunate indeed that the score is such a wild and wonderful winner, for the book is nondescript and comes out as an improvisational charade acted in somebody's pad.
Of course that may be exactly what the young people involved were aiming for, but when a musical is presented on a Broadway stage, one does expect signs of professional craftsmanship and more than the casual, never-mind-the-awkward-pauses direction by Tom O'Horgan. What passes as a plot line has a gentle soul trying his best to make it with the crowd in Robin Wagner's mad conception of a hippies' heaven. While the nice young fellow struggles on the fringe the regulars take their cues from two cynical antiheroes, played by Rado and Ragni, and mock the crowd on the outside. And, in the end, the boy from the outside joins the army and is killed.
They have songs of protest to hit not only the draft, the war in Vietnam and a government which irritates them, but such institutions as religion, marriage, solid elder citizens and the American flag. At the same time, to be sure, they sing their praise of various psychedelicacies, free love and the community of the great unwashed most of it in music which accents a bold beat of the future and , when least expected, finds an area for a snatch of attractive melody. A first-rate combo parked at one side of the stage in an ancient automobile makes the most of "I Got Life", "Where Do I Go?", "East To Be Hard", "Good Morning Starshine", "The Flesh Failures", "Hair" and the rest.
It should be reported, though, that Hair is not for the squeamish, of any age, and that its studied efforts to be an uncensored battle cry of young rebels are often more tasteless than trenchant. Four-letter words? They abound in this musical, but Hair is the only one you'll get from me. The business comes off more as a sample of kids writing obscene graffiti on a Greenwich Village wall than as the shocker it was patently supposed to be.
Even more forced, as a kind of exhibit of bravado unfettered youth, is a first-act curtain love-in, with its pointless display of nudity (in a very dim light, but still nudity and, not as in the case of Ian Richardson's Jean-Paul Marat in Marat/Sade, facing the back wall). An interfaith organization of clergymen and laymen had demanded action from New York City authorities yesterday in the matter but, wisely, there were only make-believe cops to run down the aisle last night. Much more sensible means of pressure are available.
The pity is that Hair needs no curtain shocker. It brings honest, authentic rock to Broadway and offers an excellent troupe of talented youngsters to interpret it; Ragni, about the only principal left from the Off-Broadway band, is a capital cut-up, as the chief dispenser of devil's brew; has a fine foil in Rado, and receives admirable help from Lynn kellogg, Sally Eaton, Steve Curry, Lamont Washington and a fascinating assortment of actors making the scenes as weirdos, dreamers, flower people, cultists and just plane, healthy young Yanks going through a phase.
Aside to the musical composers of Broadway: Better get groovy soon, fellows, or the Galt MacDermots will take over.
Copyright The Newark Evening News.