Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hair!"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Hair!"

Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Philip Wm. McKinley
Choreography by Mary Rotella
Musical Direction by Keith Thompson

Scenic Design by Bill Stabile
Lighting Design by John McLain
Costume Design by Elspeth McClanahan
Sound Design by John A. Stone
Production Stage Manager Karl Lengel

Crissy.......................................................Jennifer Cody
Hud..........................................................Kevin R. Free
Dionne..................................................Kimberly Jajuan
Woof.........................................................Sean Jenness
Jeanie.........................................................Rachel Stern
Claude..........................................................Tom Stuart
Sheila...........................................................Cathy Trien
Berger........................................................Matt Walton
The Tribe
Mei Mei.......................................Michelle Liu Coughlin
Dude, Mom III......................................Matthew Ferrell
Rani, Dad III..........................................Sheetal Ghandi
Diane, Supreme...............................................Pia Glenn
Andre, Dad II.........................................Damon Horton
Emmaretta, Principal II..................................Emily Hsu
Angela....................................................Casey Hushion
Rain, Mom II.................................. Stephanie Kurtzuba
Apache, Principal I......................................Seth Malkin
Cowboy, Soldier......................................Michael Rupp
Roni, Margaret Mead.....................Dante A. Sciarra, Jr.
Winsome, Supreme................................Marlayna Syms
Cube, Dad I, Principal III, Crooner...........David Villella
Sound-Effects Man/Howe...........................Don Johanson

Orchestra
Flute, Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax...Robert Patton
Trumpet............................................................Jay Daly
Keyboard......................................................Janet Hood
Drum Set, Percussion...................................Ken Hadley
Electric Guitar........................................Robert Stanton
Bass Guitar.................................................Barry Smith


Late in the 1960's, a tribe of young "hippies" took over an abandoned garage in downtown Greenwich Village and began living there. Some of them had aspirations to make it as a rock-band, but soon the loud music (at all hours), the panhandling, the wild clothing, the lack of baths, the irreverent comments, the apparent sexual slovenliness and the lack of sanitation scandalized the local population of longer-term (read "older") residents. Confrontations and police visits charged the atmosphere. Finally, the Tribe declared their first Rock Concert and leafleted all their neighbors, intending to show them first, that they were young but sincere in their free idealism, but also that their new values and their new music wouldn't back down, knuckle under, or conform. But this isn't at all a historic fact --- it was the premise for a set of improvisations by a theater company. Eventually, the group made a theatrical event in which they played the Tribe and the audience played the neighbors, and the rock-concert was a musical called "Hair!"

Once the basics were nailed down, the original producers (Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival) decided to mount a much bigger production in an uptown Broadway house. The new show was produced by one Michael Butler. He put the show in the hands of director Tom O'Horgan --- briefly Broadway's newest full-out flamboyant wonderboy. His style was excess, and his method was to objectify fantasy with huge stage pictures. (When he later staged "Lenny" he objectified Lenny Bruce's paranoid fantasies with thirty-foot puppets of his judges.) It was O'Horgan who decided the cast would spread a parachute over the entire stage and, undressing under it, emerge one by one up through slits to stand totally nude while singing "Let The Sun Shine In" as the show's finale. That certainly objectified the purity, the humanity, the vulnerability, and the honesty of the Tribe. It also gave the show the best word-of-mouth advertising of the decade. O'Horgan also made a trio of Black girls with silver beehive hairdo's into a deadpan send-up of Dianna Ross & The Supremes --- three girls wearing one dress. He put an enormous canvas penis onstage, and had his cast cascade out the end of it like grinning sperm.

In 1968, when "Hair!" burst upon the nation, the enormous Baby Boom of people who had been born between Pearl Harbor and the Korean War reached puberty --- and draft age. More Americans than every before, a majority as a matter of fact, were between the ages of 17 and 27. The musical crystallised for the young and for their parents all that was wonderful and terrible about the age. Long-running companies erupted in every major city in the country and the world, and the profits from them financed Joe Papp's Shakespeare seasons for years, and made Michael Butler a millionaire.

Butler played both ends of the publicity mill like a virtuoso. He made sure the show reflected The Summer of Love in San Francisco, when "Be Ins" filled parks with so many thousands of flower-children all insistently living by their own rules that the police gave up trying to arrest them all for uncivil disobedience. But he also revelled in the over-thirty backlash. The Boston company's opening was delayed for weeks, not because of public nudity, but because the City Fathers refused to license a performance in which someone wiped his ass with the American flag. Once it finally opened it ran to sell-out houses.

There were two levels to the show back then. One was the celebration of life and freedom and joy, but the other was the grim spectre of death that was Vietnam. Those two aspects were personified in a Tribal leader called Burger who gloried in his young manhood, and a sensitive, philosophical artist named Claude who refused to lie. There were many sideshows and asides, but ultimately whatever plot there was hinged on a ritual during which everyone except Claude burned his draft-card. Without ever knowing why, Claude went into the Army, cut his hair, and came back in a body-bag. It was then, with Claude shrouded in the stars and stripes, that the cast pleaded with God to "Let The Sun Shine In".

The reason for all this lugubrious history is that the North Shore Music Theatre is doing a thirtieth-year revival or re-creation of "Hair!" on their big round stage, but this time without a war on and before an audience of Americans most of whom, due to the Baby Bulge, are between 47 and 57 now and have lived through heavy metal rock concerts that swallowed O'Horgan whole and outdistanced him.

The emphasis is on music here. Jerome Ragni and James Rado have re-made and re-arranged their original book, and they and Galt MacDermot have added new songs, until there are 42 of them listed in the program. Director Philip Wm. McKinley has gambled that it's the songs and Mary Rota's dancing that are the main event, and sleighted the plot to give them room. He floods the stage with gyrating bodies, and makes the brief, shadowy nude scene into a Be-In sequence ending act one, with a police martinet chasing them all from the stage, announcing that everyone in the audience is under arrest, and declaring this the intermission.

At the end of the show each of the twenty-one cast members sprints to centerstage for a unique, athletic bow, and throughout they remain individuals, but very few of them get to stand out from the crowd and shine. Tom Stuart does, of course, as the hesitant, dream-haunted Claude. Matt Walton does as the macho Berger. Cathy Trien does, as Sheila the organizer bent on marching the Pentagon into submission, especially in her solo "Easy to Be Hard". And Jennifer Cody does as the waiflike wistful Crissy singing the unrhymed classic heart-breaker "Frank Mills". But as for the rest, the smooth ambiance of love and weed and flower power merges identically into the music, and there are no over-thirties left to push against any more. The old and the new music's still good, the energy levels are high throughout.
It's got a good beat.
You can dance to it.
I'd give it a seventy-nine.

Love,
===Anon.

"Hair" (till 22 August)
NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATRE
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY
1(978-922-8500

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