Diane Paulus lets down her Hair
Hair co-creator James Rado recalls a shady doc who showed up backstage to give the original cast amphetamine-laced "vitamin shots." If you ask me, Dr. Speed's still in the wings. There's enough energy pulsing around Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where Diane Paulus's revival of the "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" recently reopened following a successful run last summer in Central Park, that you'd swear the actors letting the sun shine in were human solar panels. Moreover, the tress-tossing enthusiasm proves as infectious as Galt MacDermot's tunes — the show, its ebullience trumping even a somber Snow White–inspired final image, ends with a goodly contingent of the audience streaming down the aisles to dance on a packed stage. In most cases, the revelers formerly known as spectators are the ones without the fringed vests and the American flags sewn into the seats of their pants.
HAIR: If Paulus can spark a connection with the audience in this museum of 1960s hedonism and hippie heroism, God knows what she can unleash plugging Shakespeare into an amplifier.
Paulus maintains that her main motivation in creating theater is to spark a connection with the audience, and if she can do it in the museum of 1960s hedonism and hippie heroism that is Hair, God knows what she can unleash plugging Shakespeare into an amplifier, as she's set to do at the ART next season. Indeed, she invites anyone wanting "a little sneak preview of the kind of theater I'm passionate about" to see Hair. So I did.
The director was a baby when librettists/lyricists Rado and Gerome Ragni conceived the draft-card-burning love-in that debuted at the Public Theater in 1967 and a year later took its flower-children-driven denunciation of Vietnam and plangent paean to "Sodomy" to Broadway. She fell in love with the show, which she knew from the cast album, as a kid — and kids' stuff it is, with its pre-Cobain whiff of teen spirit, innocent embrace of sex and drugs, and fear-fueled anger at facing a future as cannon fodder.
Hair, with its sketchy plot about a drafted hippie and his defiant posse, captured a moment in time. What Paulus's production captures is not just the cocksure propulsion of that moment but also its childlike apprehension and naïveté. Will Swenson's showboating Berger may be long in the tooth for a guy who just got jettisoned from high school, but he and Gavin Creel's Jesus Christ Superstar of a Claude are like ownerless pups rolling and jostling in the park. Allison Case's Crissy, applying her delicate soprano to "Frank Mills," is just a kid. And like all the other kinetic lost boys and girls bouncing off the walls of the theater, she has Margaret Mead and Richard Nixon for parents.
But good luck, Meg and Dick, sending any of these powerhouse progeny to bed without supper. Yanking their shaggy manes, strutting their substance-altered stuff, and briefly flaunting their disparate bodies, they're a strong-voiced, individually differentiated, Hydra-headed force of nature that fans into every box and cranny of the theater, chatting up the audience, handing out fliers, even straddling spectators' seats and dancing them up the aisles before returning to the rollicking womb of the stage. There they boogie beneath a green-cheesy moon, a sky that glows red, white, and blue, and the ominous burden of impending adulthood. Until it descends — "Good Morning Starshine."
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