Mark April 29, 1968 as the date the musical revolution infiltrated Broadway. That is the nite (sic) that Hair, the hippie-folk-rock-raga musical opened at the Biltmore Thetare, and it is now going to be tougher than ever to go back to the How Now Dow Joneses and The Happy Times and the Mames. This is a new, revised, expanded, infinitely improved version of the show that was first seen at Joe Papp’s Public Theater last October; that production was fresh and exciting; this one is exhilarating; the original weak, sloppy book has been virtually dispensed with and what remains of it is cogent, and a very effective bridge between musical numbers; considering its sketchiness, the book (or non-book, as the show’s program admits) builds remarkably well and serves its purpose. Some may find it just impertinent. I found its impertinence very pertinent. It is about youth and love an d peace and pot, and only occasionally is it spophomoric, and somehow, even when it is, that is part of its charm – and for all the outspokenness and sexual references – its real innocence. There is nothing ordinary about Hair. It is a rite. It is a celebration. And it is spectacular. My reaction to Hair can be summed up in 2 words: I FLIPPED.
The important elements of Hair are its energy, its freedom (of movement and attitude,) its relevance and its uncontained, absolute JOY. And the actors that personify that joy literally spill over the stage, into the aisles, onto the balconies, surrounding, enveloping the audience until it is impossible to be uninvolved.
And in this era of musicals that we hope and pray will give us just one number that will raise the pressure somewhat – in this era where a show like Hello Dolly builds a reputation and 4 years of prosperity on the strength of one great number in 2nd act – Hair gives us 20 in the first act and 10 in the 2nd, and if all cannot be called “great”, then excellent. For a musical to come off, one must react to at least some parts of it not intellectually or emotionally, but psychologically. I will not attempt to estimate the the number of goose bumps and the chills, and yes, the tears, that I experienced just through the technical virtuosity and grace of this production; as newly directed by Tom O’Horgan, it is a miracle for the Broadway stage. The score by Galt MacDermot and J. Rado (sic) throbs with the sounds and rhythms and vitality that stand for everything that should be happening to Broadway show music (and isn’t.) And the new songs sounded nearly as good as the old ones, and in at least one case, better….When the whole cast comes forth, as one, to sing and plead, “Let in The Sunshine” (sic), you will be stirred and uplifted and you will not forget it. The sets and costumes are stunning; Hair is a gorgeous show to look at every minute. What a farce that “Tonys” and the Critics Awards have already been announced. If Hair isn’t the season’s best musical and its most thrilling production, what is? But in this season of putrid musicals, that is a meaningless statement. Hair is a fabulous show, as important an innovation in the history and development of musicals as Oklahoma! And West Side Story. When I first heard that they were going to transplane Hair uptown, I was suspicious, but what I feared would be commercialized, slickified and tricked up, has been, instead, fulfilled. This is an important shake-up for Broadway, its musical history and its audiences, and if you’re of Broadway’s vast lost audience, Hair should get you back. To the whole (largely new) cast, kisses and flowers, and to everybody, peace.
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