Instead of reviewing Hair I should simply report that something downtown, dirty, ballsy, and outrageous has hit Broadway at last, and it's a smash, and hopefully Broadway will never be the same. Hair demonstrates that there's really no need to be cautious, polite, and self-censoring, that you can get away with anything, that you actually can do your own thing and win fame and fortune too. The Beatles have been saying it for years now, and it's high time that liberating spirit hit the theatre. Hair on Broadway is a good start.
The "thing" in question is not built into the show, but specifically added by Tom O'Horgan, the new director. Hair was a pushy, phony drag in it's original version at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. The basic idea was good - a rock musical about hippies - but it was hoked up and conventionally show-bizzed in the writing, acting, and staging to the point of betraying everything it was trying to represent. O'Horgan has not only recast and restaged the show almost totally, he has also virtually eliminated the book. Instead of a patronizing portrait of hippies, hair is now a direct freak-out. O'Horgan pulls every trick in the book, old and new, and writes a second volume of tricks of his own. Never has a show been so chock full of shock effects, so manic in pursuit of novelty. Every mockable subject yields its moment of fun - flag, church, home, color line. Half naked hippies roam the aisles waving at friends and passing out incense and flowers. Boys and girls alike strip naked and stand frontally exposed (though not brightly lit). Where will it all end?
What remains of the original Hair - except for the songs - is still a bring down, but there's more than enough of the new to make it an over-all ball to see. O'Horgan has put together a joyous cast who project fine-spirited physicality and togetherness. The principal roles are unsympathetic and virtually unplayable, so that Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who also wrote the words, are not shown to advantage. The more sympathetic and memorable performances are those of Steve Curry, Sally Eaton, Jonathan Kramer, Paul Jabara, Melba Moore, and Ronald Dyson. The show periodically betrays some seriousness of intention, struggling to say something about the draft, the generation gap, drug virtues, and so on, which is generally unconvincing. Only at the end does it communicate real possibilities, in a movingly simple Shakespearian duet ("What A Piece Of Work Is Man...") and a stirring ensemble plea to "Let the sun shine in..." It's importance is not anything it says about hippies, though, but the plane fact that O'Horgan has blown up Broadway.
Copyright The Village Voice.
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