It's a loony world - loonier than ever. Hair, the so-called American tribal love-rock musical which opened Monday night (29) at the Biltmore Theatre, is a show without a story, form, music, dancing, beauty or artistry. But in a loony world the show will probably have admirers and could, conceivably, even find a public.
Hair, which was first an off-Broadway hit at Joseph Papp's new Public Theater in the east Village, is the sort of show that should appeal strongly to teenagers. It's an uninhibited, defiant shout against grownup values and standards. It uses all of what used to be referred to as gutter words, jeers at patriotism, religion, morality and the traditional idea od respectability, such as the belief that people should be clothes in public.
The version of hair that has finally arrived on Broadway, by way of an unsuccessful engagement at the Cheetah discotheque, is vastly changed from the original. That had a slight story line, which has been almost completely eliminated. Instead, there is an endless succession of what might be termed production novelties, of hippie types strolling around the slightly rakes stage, rolling and crawling about the floor and on each other, shouting slogans, carrying signs advocating love as the universal panacea and attacking sundry of the world's shortcomings.
They chant the melody less numbers that pass for songs, apparently savoring the childish lyrics, including the once forbidden words, and do the sort of shuffling trot that passes for dancing among emancipated youth of today. And, oh yes, there's that first-act curtain scene in which about a half dozen men and two or three girls stand nude, facing the stage, in dim but light enough light.
Some people will probably be shocked, though it's hard to see why they should go in the first place since there's no secret about what they may regard as its immorality or tastelessness. Others may be mildly interested in this example of what the under-30s think of as honest, daring, imaginative, expressive, entertaining - in short, groovy, if that word isn't already passé or square.
The songs with their endlessly repeated, primitive musical phrases and simple-minded lyrics, are played and yelled loudly enough to make a spectators ears ring. They unquestionably will sound like pure heaven, however, to the age group that keeps radios tuned to deafening level. Also the suggestions of pot parties and group sex may strike young rebels as accurate artistry.
According to the program, the show is produced by Michael Butler, the book and lyrics are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the music is by Galt MacDermot, the direction is by Tom O'Horgan, the dance direction is by Julie Arenal, the scenery is by Robin Wagner, and the costumes (Costumes? Do they call those rags costumes?) are by nancy Potts.
Its hard to distinguish more than two or three members of the cast of 23. However, Shelley Plimpton, who would be a cute little brunet if she were attractively dressed, has a nice stage quality in a number called Frank Mills and it's possible to imagine how captivating she might have been with a real song in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show. Lynn Kellogg is a pretty girl, but it's impossible to tell whether she or any of the others have talent.
Maybe talent is irrelevant in this new kind of show business, however. The point seems to be that hair will probably have popularity for a while on it's novelty and carefully presented naughty qualities. As a durable item of entertainment, it is doubtful. The juve public may have trouble paying the $8.50 - $10 - $11 top.
Few opening performances have ever been received with such noisy encouragement. Every number, indeed almost every line, was greeted with loud cheers or laughter or both. The players, running or creeping up and down the aisles, were given frenzied ovations. It's a loony world.