A LONE VOICE IN THE HAIR UPROAR
by Harvey Perr
published April 3, 2009
now playing on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theater
I’ve begun to have the unsettling feeling each time I go to a major Broadway revival that, hey, I was actually present at the
original production; it is not so much a confirmation of the fact that I’m getting old, but rather that I’m haunting my own past. So I wish
to report that on the evening I attended the heartless and hollow revival of the Gerome Ragni-James Rado-Galt MacDermott American tribal
love-rock musical, Hair, the audience roared with wild abandon very much the way audiences
roared during the eight different productions I saw between 1967 and 1969. But, where, in the past, I roared right along, more or less,
with everyone, sharing their enthusiasm as well as the way of life it so gloriously projected, this time I was curiously unmoved. In fact,
a form of melancholia gnawed away at me in recognition of the fact that, whatever Hair is, it is
not what it was, and, quite possibly, can never be again.
It is still lively and energetic, almost desperately so, and it still has more wonderful songs than almost any other musical
comedy score has ever contained, and it still has, at its roots, the sense of being genuinely heart-felt, but, regardless of the very
precise and intentional formlessness of style which Diane Paulus’ direction and Karole Armitage’s choreography bring to it, it just doesn’t
seem organic or honest. Unless, of course, one’s idea of what is organic and honest has changed in the years between then and now. It is
always possible, too, that I have changed. But I suspect that what hasn’t changed (in me; I can only speak for myself) is sensing the real
thing from the rhinestone imitation.
There’s still Claude and Berger, their love for each other as well as their love for Sheila, and there’s still the looming tragedy
of the Vietnam War impinging on the desire to breathe free; there’s still the whole tapestry of a moment in time that became, for so many,
the longest and greatest moment of their lives. And, yes, when Gavin Creel, as Claude, launches into “I Got Life” and carries it into
another sphere, genuine emotion seems to be at the heart of it. And when Theo Stockman, in Margaret Mead drag, bursts out with “My
Conviction,” some of the fun of the original comes shining through.
But, otherwise, emotion (and fun) seems to have, almost consciously, been swept under the rug of this production. These actors
don’t seem like hippies; they seem like showbiz bunnies preening and showing off in some concert revue of the songs from Hair. Will Swenson, as Berger, is particularly offensive, and it is not that he is without talent, which
might glow and shine under different circumstances, but, here, where what we want is someone actually living and breathing, someone wanting
to share his belief in a new world, his need to ingratiate himself so aggressively seems downright narcissistic. Performing Hair is not the same thing as attempting to liberate the audience.
So, if Hair was not really more organic than this revival is, and this reviewer was
only fooling himself at the time, I can only add this: even a faint whiff of raw authenticity will always be preferable to a parade of
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com