Reviewed by Judy Richter
Just one day after police lobbed tear gas at Occupy Oakland demonstrators, "Hair" opened across the bay in San Francisco. Even though "Hair" premiered more than 40 years ago on Broadway, much of it seems relevant. True, today's all-volunteer Army means that the draft is no longer the concern that it was then, when many young men had to choose between breaking the law or possibly fighting in the Vietnam war. But there's still a war in Afghanistan as well as environmental problems like air pollution. Now we're seeing people taking to the streets to protest inequality -- in today's case between the rich and everyone else.
Moreover, Galt MacDermot's songs, with lyrics by book writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado, are marvelously tuneful with the likes of "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine," "Let the Sun Shine In" and many more. However, the current renditions under music director David Truskinoff are sometimes too contemporary and sometimes obscure the melodies.
The original "Hair" was truly groundbreaking. The book, such as it was, was mighty thin, focusing on Claude (Paris Remillard in this production), his hippie friends and his reaction to receiving his draft notice. Mostly, the show is memorable for the way it thumbed its nose at convention and dared to tackle such topics as drugs, sex, racial stereotypes, interracial relationships and others. It was wonderfully irreverent, uninhibited and reflective of the turmoil and social change engulfing the nation. Some of what happened on stage broke barriers then, but now seems commonplace such as drug use, simulated sex and actual nudity (briefly and in dim light at the end of Act 1).
The performers in today's revival are too young to have been around when "Hair" burst on the musical theater scene. Hence they might not have the same convictions and feelings as the original crew. Instead their antics, directed by Diane Paulus, sometimes seem frantic, as if they're trying too hard. This is especially true of Steel Burkhardt as Claude's friend Berger. He prances around the stage and audience, mugs, moons, tosses his long hair and is generally obnoxious, getting the show off on the wrong foot. Other principals are better, including Phyre Hawkins as Dionne, Matt DeAngelis as Woof, Sara King as Sheila and Will Blum as Dad and Margaret Mead. The choreography is by Karole Armitage, with the set by Scott Pask, costumes by Michael McDonald, lighting by Kevin Adams and sound by Acme Sound Partners.
I have vivid memories of seeing the show in Chicago during its first national tour in the late '60s or early '70s, and I listened to the Broadway cast album so often that I memorized most of the songs. Hence I was looking forward to this production, but I left disappointed. Maybe it was better just to hang on to my memories.