The New York musical theatre, which has been justly fabled for its resistance to any kind of change, has given in this last season and joined the rock and roll movement. At least that's what the adman, the critics and the theatre-goers are saying. Two of the biggest hits in town are hair and Your Own Thing, both of which are billed as "rock musicals."
Actually, Hair is subtitled "An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," and as this suggests, it's supposed to be a general examination of the American youth phenomenon. The company consists of about 50 young actor and actresses in hippie garb, vintage early 1967. They dance and sing. perform gag routines, spill over into the aisles and run around on scaffolds above the audience. In the process, they enthusiastically promote every real or imagined vice that's ever been associated with hippies, everything from pot to sodomy, with a special fixation on interracial and group copulation. There's also the famed "nude scene," in which several people briefly stand naked under a murky light-show, and a story of sorts.
One of the two lead hippies is being threatened by the draft; after a lot of joking around in the first half of the show, he has a psychedelic vision of a computerized, war oriented society, "freaks out," forgets his own name, gives in to the establishment and winds up in uniform dead.
If this last sequence sounds strange and implausible to you, it looked that way to me too. As for the rest of it, there were some good things - a hilarious travesty on the Supremes, with the three girls all inside one pink sequined skirt; and several bits by a girl names Shelley Plimpton. who looks and whines like a real Brooklyn flower child.
The big problem, though, is that the rest of the hippies in hair bear only the most superficial resemblance to any people or group of people in America today or anytime. In fact, they are a very carefully packaged fantasy. They look like the hippies we read about in Time magazine, and they do, or claim to do, all the dirty things that Time magazine hints such people do.
But at the same time, there's not an ounce of hostility, or distrust, in them. "We love you," they cry to the assorted tourists, burghers, innocents and fags who made up most of the audience at the matinee I went to. They were so young and fresh, so back-slapping and wise cracking and yes, wholesome, that the little old lady from Dubuque can do naught but clutch them to her sagging breast. Hair has an unbeatable combination of ingredients, guaranteed to shock and reassure her at the same time.
As for the music, it's basically show-tunes and show lyrics, superimposed on reasonably authentic but rudimentary rock backgrounds. The same is pretty much true of the score for Your own Thing, which otherwise is a much more conservative production.
The book for Your Own Thing is a gloss of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and most of the gags are milked out of the homosexual implications of the identity switch between the boy and girl twins. About its only claim to contemporaneity is the fact that the central characters include a rock and roll group called "The Apocalypse." These boys are somewhere in the range of Doodletown Pipers, spouting happy wisecracks and happy truisms (I'm not afraid to give / I'm not afraid to live) and continually breaking into dances of gay abandon, including, at one point, the twist.
At another point, the hero assures us that he's only in this rock and roll business so he can "stash away enough bread to become a geologist."
I just say, good luck.
Copyright Straight Arrow Publications.