One of the happiest surprises I've had in the theater in some times was the joyous success of Hair at its opening performance Saturday night at the Moore theater.
When I saw the "tribal love-rock musical" in New York, I found it irritatingly noisy and busy, pretentious, and ultimately boring. The actors came on with a tough, chip-on-shoulder attitude which essentially said, "Look how beautiful we are. Enjoy us - or else!"
The kids in Hair's new "Chinook tribe" at the Moore Saturday night had such freshness and openness and delight - in themselves and in the show - that many of the same things that had irritated me in New york amused and charmed me at the Moore.
The Seattle Hair is basically a carbon copy of the New York Hair, but it's a much different - and better - show. Presumably, the new york Hair at one time had - and maybe has again - the honest vitality of the Seattle production, but when I saw it, its energy level and its honesty level were so down that it seemed only a frantic exercise in usual Broadway commerce.
In New York, Tom O'Horgan's spinning-off-in-all-directions staging - which has the actors swinging on ropes, racing up and down the aisles, and even walking through the audience on the arms of the seats - seemed to be simply busy-work, a tumult of physical activity which was imposed on the show rather than a direct physical expression of the sense and thrust of the show.
At the Moore, however, Joe Donovan's handling of O'Horgan's original staging and the energetic responsiveness of the cast make the wild, ultra-theatrical stage business all make sense. When the kids have the energy and the commitment - and the likableness - to make O'Horgan's staging work as it should, then this super-active stage business becomes the essential statement of the show.
Hair expresses the freshness and exuberance of today's youth. It also expresses their positive interests - in love, sex, fun, the feeling of community - and their negative hang-ups - with the war, the draft and other societal evils.
If the exuberance and fun come across, as they do at the Moore, they provide a meaningful context for, and perspective on, the kids interests and hang-ups. But if the exuberance seems forced and the fun phony, as they did in New York, then all the anti-war, pro-love, anti-draft, pro-pot stuff seems simply mechanical and cliche-charged.
The kids in the "Chinook tribe" on the Moore stage are so engaging and likable - to say nothing of their energy or talent - that it's entirely possible to be fully entertained and charmed by them, while at the same time reserving doubt about the validity of their - and the show's - expression of the common youth-revolution shibboleths.
I've been asked frequently - primarily by parents - if seeing Hair will help adults understand what today's kids are thinking and feeling. If you go to the Moore looking for the intellectual justification for the kids' views about protest and pot, you'll be disappointed. But if you go hoping better to understand - to feel - the kids' insistence on anti-establishment fun, on brotherly love, on the sense of community, on the simple delight in being young and free, then you'll be amply rewarded - and entertained at the same time.
The Hair score is by now familiar because of its saturation of radio and TV. It is an excellent rock score, with a number of good songs and at least one great one, "Easy To Be Hard".
The plot of Hair is less familiar, partly because it doesn't make that much difference in the total thrust of the show. The story, such as it is, deals with a young man's getting drafted and with the effect this has on him and on the gaudy, happy bunch of hippies who are his friends.
the show is essentially a rock revue, with a lot of skits and singing and dancing which is connected only tenuously to the plot.
The fun was palpable on opening night saturday. The cast was obviously up for the show. If they can sustain their enthusiasm and excitement - and if their energy holds up - Hair should have a very happy - and very long - run in Seattle.
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