NOTE: This is the second half of a longer article that
also reviews Hamlet at the Public Theater.
The rock 'n' roll musical Hair was so successful in it's Public Theater unveiling that it has been moved uptown to Cheetah. Hair has a minimum of plot, being content merely to try to describe what it is like to be a teenage hippie. Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Galt MacDermot, who wrote the music, appear to take no sides in the war between generations. But because they are attempting to show us the world as it looks to the kids, the older people are presented as parodies of such attitudes as the one which allows a man to be proud that his son will die for his country in Vietnam.
For the most part, however, the show simply follows a long-haired young man and his friend, who is a high school drop-out, through the final days before the hero must report to the army. The challenge these deliberately unkempt youngsters and their friends accept is to show us themselves as they are, and , ultimately, to make us love them as they are.
They use bad language, are less sure of their professed convictions than they pretend to be, are slightly bisexual and promiscuous - and, of course, they smoke marijuana. Indeed, the most interesting number in the show is one in which they all get high. They show us the purportedly beautiful and harmonious effect of such an experience and ask "How dare they try to end such beauty?" Then, being honest, the authors also show us what can happen on a bad trip. This is achieved in an elaborate production number which moves from a paranoid phase in which people begin to misinterpret the action of others as hostile, to a phase of hallucination in which they imagine themselves participating in painful events, and finally to the extreme climax of disorientation when movement and color explode and time ceases to be.
There is a good deal of irreverent humor, and one touchingly funny song in which a girl (performed perfectly by Gale Dixon) asks in an innocent voice that an obviously insensitive brief acquaintance return and take advantage of her and her girl friend again. Oddly enough, the best of the music is that which sounds least rock 'n' roll. Indeed, the lovely "Good Morning Starshine" quietly sung by Jill O'Hara, which captures the wonderful feeling a young girl experiences when she stays up all night with a young man, would be a hit in a more conventional musical.
All in all, Hair is only a sporadically engaging musical, but if you would like to take a first step towards comprehending the younger generation, it seems to be a truer and fairer representation of hippiedom than anything the theater has offered so far.
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