Hair, currently playing on Broadway, New York City, in the Biltmore Theatre, is billed as an "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" which makes one suspicious right away that it might not be for everyone.
Since its Broadway debut about two weeks ago it has spawned a riot of reaction among critics, some aflame with praise, some indignant with disgust, some incredulous, some awed, some unimpressed, some confused. Directed by Tom O'Horgan, this rollicking, rocking romp, which one must call it, has much jumpy musical movement, a relentless pace, and tends to leave them laughing.
Living Theater techniques abound in this forthright production which makes one feel at least living while actors crawl up the aisles, dangle from catwalks and stage machinery, and caper through the audience, orchestra and balcony. The plot line is thin in this depiction of the "hippie" culture, but there is a "mirror for mankind" which is held up not just to the flower children but is angled at other segments of social structure.
The hippies, who are portrayed by a vivacious, engaging group of youngsters, not only look at the rest of the world and the society they have abandoned through their truth-seeing eyes, they also hold that mirror up to themselves. They see their weaknesses, if sometimes dimly; they laugh, they weep. They are immutably human, making their own dreams, suffering their own despairs.
The mirror of reflection, which this sparkling production provides, must be termed satire - but it does not distort as much as one might imagine it could, given this fertile opportunity. Even in the "light show" scenes of horror and war, there is something of the unwavering image; a sense inside us gulps; that fantasy is real: hence helpless, human, uncontrollable laughter.
But one ends up feeling good about it. One neatly-tailored man having a smoke at intermission (straight, as they would say) commented, "This is the best relaxation I've had in ages." Someone once said, back in my collegiate days, that when a people are ready to laugh at the foibles and the deeper fractures in their culture or, in themselves, they are ready to recover.
When plagued by self-accusation, dissatisfaction, strife, and self-criticism, a nation, a culture, is not in the death throes, it is throbbing with overabundant life. It is healthy and vital enough not to allow the creeping cancers of existence to thrive unthwarted. It is reacting to violence, to ugliness, to structural facade that does not allow change.
Raised to the philosophy that "we are a young (nearly a baby) patriotic, red-white-and-blue, chest out, stomach in, shoulder back nation," the country is suddenly accused of being wrong (Vietnam). It is hinted the U.S. may have been wrong before (The American Indians).
In Hair, there is a ceremony about the American flag that has been much discussed. The sacred rules concerning the flag are not broken. The flag is treated respectfully; it does not touch the floor; it is folded according to protocol. For a moment, one of the hippy heroes is cradled and rocked in it.
Suddenly, in a flash of insight, it seems that the American shouldn't be rocked in his cradle any longer. He is no longer the patriotic, blindly nationalistic baby. He is coming of age. The flag, the symbol, must no longer represent the security of the cradle, rocking him in unthinking bliss.
Vitality surges through this "love-rock" musical - that is why it is entertaining, why it leaves one "feeling good" if one is willing to give it a chance - and the full house of which this reviewer was a member seemed very willing to give it this chance. members of the audience represented every "age" of adulthood - and they yielded easily to the mirror they were held up to view.
Perhaps because this musical kisses all our sacred cows in irreverent places is why it succeeds. Buddhist monks, Margaret Mead, middle class "Morality," bourgeois values, hippie "love", Vietnam, the draft - nothing goes untouched - but the touch itself is infectious invention.
One could detail why the time goes so fast - the great sets, the personable and engaging acting, the not-terribly unique but lively rock beat, the use of mad lighting and multi-media props. They pull out all the stops. (Yes, it's true, they take off all their clothes.)
Can the upstate New Yorker find happiness in Hair?
That question is an insult, I hope. People aren't places after all;
if this whets your appetite, fine; if it excited your priggishness or your
prurience, that's okay too. You'll make your own choice at any rate,
if you're healthy.
Copyright the Schenectady Union-Star Corp.