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    Jonathan Groff and Tribe in Hair in Hair
    Photo by Michal Daniel
    Jonathan Groff and Tribe in "Hair"

    Hair Today ...

    Director Diane Paulus and her talented hippie-dippie band of singers and dancers have truly recaptured the essence of “Hair,” showing a new generation just how revolutionary this musical really was and how little some things have changed.


    For once, an eagerly awaited (and almost impossible-to-get-a-ticket-to) show deserves its advance hoopla and subsequent jubilant reviews. The current revival of “Hair,” the original hippie-dippie anti-war, tribal musical, on view in Central Park through September 14th, is a thoroughly joyous revival of the original anti-establishment musical by Galt McDermott, James Rado and the late Gerome Ragni.

    Written by: Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
    Directed by: Diane Paulus.
    Cast: Allison Case (Crissy), Jonathan Groff (Claude), Andrew Kober (Father/Margaret Mead), Megan Lawrence (Mother), Caren Lyn Manuel (Sheila), Patina Renea Miller (Dionne), Darius Nichols (Hud), Bryce Ryness (Woof), Kacie Sheik (Jeanie) and Will Swenson (Berger); and Ato Blankson-Wood, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Lauren Elder, Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, Kaitlin Kiyan, Nicole Lewis, John M. Moauro, Brandon Pearson, Megan Reinking, Paris Remillard, Saycon Sengbloh, Maya Sharpe, Theo Stockman and Tommar Wilson (Tribe).
    Choreography by: Karole Armitage.
    Music by: Galt MacDermot.
    Sound design by: Acme Sound Partners.
    Set design by: Scott Pask.
    Costumes by: Michael McDonald.
    Lighting design by: Michael Chybowski.
    Psychadelic Art by: the Joshua Light Show.
    Music Supervisor: Rob Fisher.
    Music Director/Conductor: Nadia DiGiallonardo.

    Related links: Official site
    Delacorte Theater
    Central Park, Southwest corner of the Great Lawn near 80th Street
    Previews start: July 22, 2008
    Aug. 7 - Sept. 14, 2008

    Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, south of 81st Street; (212) 539-8750. Extended through Sept. 14. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

    Rado himself, resplendent in a head scarf, shades and a big grin, was happily in attendance the night I saw the show. He had every right to be happy. Forty-one years after its initial performances downtown to inaugurate Joe Papp’s Shakespeare Festival Theater, director Diane Paulus (“The Donkey Show”) has re-created not just the fashions (as did the 2001 Encores presentation, mis-directed by Kathleen Marshall), but the politics as well as the youthful exuberance of the '60‘s.

    Paulus (who was recently made Artistic Director of Harvard's American Repertory Theater) has found just the right balance among the many facets of this gloriously non-P.C. (and proud of it!) cult classic. There’s plenty of the music, drugs, sex, politics — and yes, of course, the fashions — of a generation simultaneously as fearful of going to war as it was eager to embrace the emerging recreational drug culture. And don’t forget that famous naked first act curtain!

    The show begins on a circlet of grass in front of a permanent bandstand surrounded by a fence-a brilliantly simple set. To the strains of the ever-evocative “Age of Aquarius,” the tribe climbs, slinks and tumbles in over the fence and begins what will be a continuous stream in and out of the audience (kudos to choregrapher Karen Armitage for her equally brilliant, yet simple movement).

    Kacie Sheik, Darius Nichols in HAIR in Hair  
    Photo by Michael Daniel  
    Kacie Sheik, Darius Nichols in HAIR
    While that may be a tired old trick to today’s audience, in 1967 it was a totally new way to break the theater’s traditional fourth wall, just as cross-dressing actors (one actor's stage father (Andrew Kober) also portrays Margaret Mead) were not often seen on legitimate theater stages, except perhaps in "Charley's Aunt."

    The director and her talented hippie-dippie band of singers and dancers have recaptured the essence of “Hair,” showing a new generation just how revolutionary this musical really was. “Hair” is more or less a continuous song cycle with some dialogue acting as a kind of minimalist roadmap/script, but the songs — many of which became big pop hits during 1967-78, including the “Age of Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine” and "Let the Sunshine In" — tell the story of a group of disaffected youth in a time of political upheaval.

    It’s the subversive songs that didn’t make the hit parade that beat at the heart of “Hair.” Today’s Red and Blue America is still so racially charged that songs like "Colored Spade," a recitative of all the many names for African-Americans (that nomenclature not included because not yet promulgated) or songs where white girls sing about the joys of black boys ("Black Boys") and black girls respond by singing the praises of white boys ("White Boys") still carry at least a whiff of danger.

      There’s plenty of the music, drugs, sex, politics — and yes, of course-the fashions — of a generation simultaneously as fearful of going to war as it was eager to embrace the emerging recreational drug culture. And don’t forget that famous naked first act curtain!
    Others like "Sodomy" and "Hashish" are self explanatory in their desire to shock. “Initials,” with LBJ taking LSD on the IRT, may be just so much gibberish today, but "What a Piece of Work is Man," taken from Hamlet's Act II, Scene II soliloquy, deftly underscores the angst of the time (re-read it sometime, it's the antithesis of a paean to mankind).

    With no draft and no war protests or draft card burnings, some of the show's tropes probably seem as antiquated as the model T, or do they? In the midst of our current war situation, the apathy of today’s crop of young people is made all the more obvious. "Hair" stands as an ode as well as an object lesson to our once and future selves.

    Putting politics aside and getting back to the musical part of “Hair,” it's the quintessential ensemble piece. Yet a few of the cast naturally stand out, especially those playing the hedonistic Berger and the British wannabe Claude, originally written and performed by Ragni and Rado themselves. In Will Swenson and Jonathon Groff, Paulus has found a great yin/yang pair of actor/singers to nimbly portray the polar opposite BBFs. Swenson's Berger is lithe and lissome where Groff's Claude (whose story forms the play's arc) is naive and even a bit clumsy.

    Tommar Wilson, Will Swenson, Bryce Ryness in Hair in Hair  
    Photo by Michael Daniel  
    Tommar Wilson, Will Swenson, Bryce Ryness in "Hair"
    Others in the uniformly wonderful ensemble deserving of individual praise include a passel of the distaff cast members: Patina Renea Miller as Dionne, invokes the “Age of Aquarius” at the top of the show; Caren Lyn Miller portrays Sheila, “the Joan of Arc of N.Y.U” and performs a ringing “Easy to Be Hard,” while Allison Case's Chrissy wrings every drop of pre-femininst victimhood out of the plaintive, “Frank Mills.”

    "Hair" has been extended twice and will very likely move to a theater, but an indoor production will never be the same as seeing in the park. All in all, do try to get in to see this free production. Easier said than done of course.

    Hardest way in is to stand on line outside the Delacorte, starting at 8 am (many people get as early as 6!) for ticket distribution at 1 pm.

    Easiest way is probably the "Virtual Ticket Line" lottery. Just go to and follow the directions.

    Or, if you happen to be independently wealthy, Summer Supporters can donate $165 to receive one reserved seat per donation.

    AUGUST 22, 2008

    Reader comments on Hair:

  • old TRIBE member   from Tish, Oct 17, 2008
  • Re: old TRIBE member   from Erica, Jun 2, 2009
  • Hair is the ultimate theatrical experience!   from BobsViews, Aug 17, 2009
  • gerome ragni   from bill cooley, Dec 15, 2009
  • Re: gerome ragni   from Bill Sak, Dec 24, 2009

  • Post a comment on "Hair"