To see the playbill and ticket stubs from the performance this review talks about click here.
Somehow, in the shuffle of plays with pseudo-rock overtones, I always manage to slip up and pop in to see one. In the case of Hair, however, I didn't get the chance to preview the musical, nor have the time to see it in New York. Thus when the Shubert announced that Hair had arrived in New Haven I made it a point to see it. But wouldn't you know it that I suddenly took ill and had to cancel my first opportunity to view the play? In my place, my wife viewed the production and made a serious attempt to be intelligently critical. Notwithstanding, I was determined to see it and contrast her notes with mine. And so, last Sunday, I made the scene and The Age of Aquarius reached this foggy rock head.
First, let me present my wife's views. Since she is not as tangled as I am with rock's superficiality and legitimacy, her comments seemed refreshing.
"...if you are the type of person who is easily offended by four-letter words, stay home. If you become uptight by the subjects of draft dodging and homosexuality, don't see Hair.
Hair touches on so many things that involve the young people of today; subjects which, up to now, have been taboo. It is reality with everything in the open.
The Shubert's production opened to a full house with the cast singing Happy Birthday to one of the drummers. Don't expect a plot at the beginning of the play, it takes a while for it to surface. The play moves right along without any dull moments. The music - both vocal and instrumental - was tops. The cast works on an open stage with a few props here and there. The band plays on stage beside the players. It was both serious and comical.
The audience ranged in age from young people to grey-haired ladies and gentlemen. During the intermission, a variety of comments were heard..."I'm speechless," "They did a good job," "I was curious." As the second act began a few people may have been shocked at the nudity since there were new empty seats scattered throughout the theater."
And so I arrived, my wife's comments in my head, and an open mind. As I suspected, the fruit of the loom was pure bubblegum - but with such class!
As a rock musical - indeed the first of its genre - Hair took the first step into legitimatizing (sic) the relevance of the rock spirit into a unified, understandable play-with-plot. According to the story, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, both actors, had the original idea, but lacked a composer. This was 1967, when Mame and Man Of LaMancha were the Broadway biggies. And no one wanted to venture forth with a blast of rock - that was a form of prostitution!
It wasn't until Ragni and Rado were introduced to Galt MacDermot, a relatively straight oldster with superb musical credentials, that the Hair plot began to boil. After an eight week run at The Public Theater in New York, millionaire Michael Butler saw the show and bought the rights to it. After a sort of run at the Cheetah discotheque, the show finally reached Broadway and the price of a ticket belonged to the scalpers.
The "tribe" that constitutes the dancers-singers is, of course, a collage of long-hairs who sing and dance and do groovy things. The book is pure whipped cream and makes the point that kids need to be let off to tell their elders where to go. And for some the feelings are entirely honest and captivating, particularly the Aquarius theme and Berger's strung out antics. But as relevant rock, the play moves in strange circles, the line of demarcation between polished polemics and irretrievable dullness was thin; a playgoer might not mind it, but a fan well into Jethro Tull might find it uninspiring. But that was unimportant. What was important was that Hair got off at all and got through to otherwise unreachables with the youth story. Thus, in one grand tour, the world knew that youth had something valid to say about the world. And that is the ideal and the most profound message a play can make.
If, in order to make that statement, four-letter rockets have to reach into the depths of the theater, fine. If, in order to make that statement, the body must be viewed in the nude, fine. Young people are hardly embarrassed by either so why should anyone else?
As a rock statement, however, the music seemed skimpy and rather shallow where it should have been powerful. Yet as theater, and unlike Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar, it is a satisfying and thoroughly engrossing work. Hair was the pioneer, the first step forward in what was to become a youth phenomenon on Wall Street. After Hair came Peter Max and Fillmore posters and Easy Rider. It seems like the grand schlock has taken a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and every kid between 8 and 28 are members of its tribe.
Hair is good theater. Hair is meaningful to the uninitiated who want to understand the motives of youth in these harried times. But as all new things with lots of Madison Avenue plush, one should take it with a question: Is it really any different from what's around already? Enjoy Hair at the Shubert. Tonight is the last performance. And when you leave the theater give a long hair back some of the credit due him.
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