Reviewed By: Alissa Norby
The intensely dichotomous period of development known as adolescence has long been the stuff of Broadway engendering. Fraught with billowing hormones and mercurial urges, these characters practically invite their creators to shelve out ruminating power ballads ripe for the belting. Yet despite this fecund dramatic offering, Broadway conceivers have often slogged between the belittling of such a pertinent state and the aggrandizing of it.
The budding tribal members in Diane Paulus' pulsating revival of Hair proffer no such pitfall. Fresh from its sold-out gestational run at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, the production has mirthfully wrested the intimate space at the Al Hirschfield Theater. Skipping through the aisles and dangling from the mezzanine, the hirsute players breathe and profess Gerome Ragni and James Rado's initial concept of the social community. You may very well find yourself in intimate proximity to a scraggly-groomed rouser, complete with Be-In leaflets in hand.
Not that this new, gleefully uninhibited revival is an improvisatory free-for-all. Ms. Paulus has ostensibly designed a liberally-formed though adroitly cemented framing for all hippies, protesters, and free-loaders to take their trippy wing. Paulus' staging is deftly expansive, ably dovetailing the score's humanistic ballads with its rhythmic chants. Scott Pask's disrobed set yokes with Nadia DiGiallonardo's music direction, equipping the onstage band with enough composed spunk to which the tribe may toke and wig, alternatively. Karole Armitage's flavorful choreography also colors this pop-rock score with a heightened, and necessary, wallop of sensuality.
Unlike previous incarnations of this essential "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical", this fresh rendering confounds its audience's expectations—and for the most part substantiated memories—for a feel-good musical that laces its writhing sex acts with hallucinogenic substances. Originally produced by the Public Theatre in 1967, Hair treaded a tumultuous journey to the Off-Broadway stages, undergoing several creative rehirings and score rewrites. Despite the clippings, the arrival of Tom O'Horgan as director (and a new ditty entitled "Let the Sunshine In") launched Hair to its prolific Broadway run. A floundering 1977 revival swiftly collapsed, suggesting that Hair's relevancy had passed alongside the clouded aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Therefore the stakes of the Delacorte production and subsequent in-house revival were high and uncertain. However, unlike the concurrent Broadway revivals raking in the tourist green, Hair succeeds because of its steadfast unwillingness to simply glorify its ancestry or reinterpret its narrative. Ms. Paulus and her imaginative team of designers could easily have reframed Hair's malleable design aspects- setting, costume, etc.- to suit the Iraqi War generation. Yet, as the creatives soon discovered, an already lionized piece such as Hair does not necessitate a re-imagining but rather a more calibrated exploration of the humanity that has always resided in its narrative.
To be sure, Paulus vividly and masterfully celebrates the counterculture that muscles the heart of the story. However, she is careful to limn this often exuberant bead-covered, poncho-clad jamboree with a sobering emotional stem. Amidst the tribal anthems and LSD excursions, the young people who leaven the Al Hirschfield stage must also struggle with the frightening uncertainty of an adult future, the crippling threat of the draft, and parents that are all too forthcoming with disdain and disapproval.
Claude (the intense Paris Remillard) embodies the dithering core of the tribe, expressing a desperate ambivalence that foils his headstrong comrades including the aloof Berger (an indefatigable Will Swenson) and eager NYU activist Sheila (a profound Caissie Levy). Together with the versatile ensemble, the superb cast unbindingly infects the stage with an impassioned pull.
This cunning production evinces a crisp sense of social and political charge, proving to audiences and artists alike the ageless faculty of the theatre if we are only willing to unleash it.
‘Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical' plays an open-ended run at the Al Hirschfield Theater, 302 West 45th Street, New York City, NY. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (212)-239-6200 or visit www.HairBroadway.com.