The short, lively history of Hair, the American Tribal Love-Rock musical, is something of a phenomenon by itself. Launched several months ago at Joseph Papp's Public Theater, it was generally accepted as a mild, ingratiating snapshot of the "love generation." It had its protests, but apparently in easy-to-take form. The musical moved to the Cheetah, a midtown discotheque, and then it was decided to bring it to Broadway.
Instead of toning down some of the usually more outspoken Off-Broadway elements for the uptown audiences, however, producer Michael Butler decided to pull out all stops, going to Off-Off-Broadway's Cafe La Mama for his uninhibited, totally untraditional director, Tom O'Horgan.
The original, rather harmless plot has been practically erased, and the music - a lot of it surprisingly in the traditional mold but with a rock overlay - carried the evening, wrapped snuggly about the theme of turning on and dropping out. The rebellious references have been sharpened, the message is exuberantly defiant and the production explodes into every nook and cranny of the Biltmore Theater. The result: This Hair stands Broadway on its marcelled toupee.
Mr. O'Horgan's direction of the young and excellent cast tends to give most other musicals the aura of Max Reinhardt curiosities. The uncurtained stage is framed with lighting fixtures, ramps are used over the stage and along one wall of the theater, the musicians play off to stage left in a broken-down jalopy. From the opening slow-motion parade of the actors down the center aisle with incense and flower petals, the production is strewn with innovations, all the happier results of Off-Off-Broadway experimentation.
It has to be stressed, however, that Hair will not be to everyone's liking. It rips into everything from parents to U.S. "abduction centers" to Kate Smith. It propounds everything from psychedelia to ambisexuality. It has long haired boys, a pregnant flower child and a brief nude scene using both sexes. If any of these things are more than enough to turn you quite definitely off, stay clear of this one.
No matter the reaction to the content, though, I suspect the form will be important to the history of the American musical. About a year ago, Ellen Stewart, LaMama herself, said she didn't care what happened to her theater group so long as she was able to effect some change on the "moribund" professional stage. Through Mr. O'Horgan, Miss Stewart already has got her revolution, significant in its way as Pal Joey, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story.
Copyright The Wall Street Journal.