I thought I'd seen a policeman standing in the dimly lit aisle of the Biltmore Theatre just before the end of Act I. Then as the house lights went up, there he was, lifting an arm and saying "You've all read about this show, but now it's the real thing. You're all under arrest. Joe, you take the ones up there and I'll get them down here."
Like so much of Hair, the musical that has opened in its revamped form, this was a gag. The show was kidding us, kidding itself, kidding furtive thoughts and attitudes they knew were turning over in the backs of many minds.
Few were fooled, perhaps, but it was just the right note to end the act on. The much-touted nude scene had just been performed - a rather inconsequential bit of business with little impact, scandalous or otherwise. (A handful of men and women stand briefly in their native state, earnestly singing "Where Do I Go?") And the eager, attractive young cast had been applying their rather desperate irreverence throughout the first half of the evening.
Were shows of this new breed more common, Hair might be less anxious to offend what it apparently considers square audiences. But for all of its obscenities, it comes over as an unjaded expression of mod musical thinking, very weakly based on the tale of a long-haired protester who finally ends up in uniform bound for Vietnam. Billed as "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical", a chanting ritual dance seems to be taking place throughout the frenetic evening.
A definite repetitiousness dulls some of the effects, but Tom O'Horgan has come up with a vital new attack in staging each of the many songs. Galt MacDermot's music is both energetic and lyrical, and the book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado effectively pour out the heart of the new attitude being saluted here. In their blasts at cherished clichés the words sound over anxious and self-conscious at times. They strain for shock-effects until their potential impact is blunted.
But the over-thirty theatergoers in the opening night audience roared as they were caricatured on stage. Much in the spirit of a fraternity prank, the company lashes out at pollution, patriotism, religion, war, and uptight middle-aged bigotry. Hippie dressed youths walk up the aisles handing out flowers, swing out over the front rows on ropes (one cleared my head by inches), push a motorcycle down the aisle and onto the stage, throw leaves on the audience from a catwalk. There seems no end to the inventive bits - glimpses of the absurd, wise-cracks, quick spoofs of almost anything.
Messrs. Rado and Ragni (lead players as well as writers) usually convey freshness and sincerity despite the foul mouthed nature of their commentary. Shirtless, in a flaring hairdo, Mr. Ragni is weirdly like Leonardo's famous diagram of the man with windmill arms. And Mr. Rado, when eventually he emerges minus long hair and plus an army uniform, looks like a shorn lamb ready for sacrifice to a modern god of war.
Among the other players, Lynn Kellogg - pretty, blonde,
lithe, and lively - sings and speaks charmingly. Shelley Plimpton,
a fragile, teeny-bopper type looking about 13, sings a run-on number about
her Brooklyn boyfriend with artless deadpan humor. And Robin Wagner's
scenery is the right backing for this hip parade, with a tower of jumbled
objects rising from upstage center like a pop totem and the band playing
from an old car stranded at stage left.
Copyright Christian Science Monitor.