I was in New York in 1967, slightly active in Peace movements, mingling with people younger and more innocent than I. And yet then, and in the three years when I could have attended Hair either on or off Broadway, I never went. I don’t know why. I do know that ever since I’ve admired some of the songs. But, until this week, I’d never seen the show.
I tell you this because I’ve just witnessed a traveling company version of the latest Broadway production and found a lot of it endearing and some of it truly moving. So I can’t review it by comparing it to other performances.
The endearing part comes because it evokes in me tears of love and sorrow for those innocent young people more than 40 years ago, young people who thought that loving everyone, embracing each other tenderly, having all kinds of faith, could change our society and change the world, suffusing it with peace. It didn’t happen. The Viet Nam war kept on going for eight years after Hair first brought forth its message. Cry now for other young people dying in a far away war. Although peace and universal love could still call out to us wherever we turn, innocence is gone. Hair reminds us, sitting there well-dressed and well-fed in the comfort of Heinz Hall, of how we could have been better.
Whether or not you’ve seen the show before, it still has weight, a weight you may not expect seeing it get underway with so much joyous jumping and stomping and shouting in multi-colored clothes up there under the bright lights.
It bursts with energy, almost non-stop, until it arrives at its final destination. The last part is something you may not expect. I didn’t. But where it was going was already an undercurrent, if you think about it, knowing what happened in the real world of the late 60s. And the early 70s.
The members of the tribe hug each other, staying close, unabashedly generating warmth and comfort. Director Diane Paulus shows us how such people cherished their closeness. Oh yes, this is theatre. They talk to us, knowing that they are putting on a show. They prance the aisles, touching whomever is in their path. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The real kids they represent saw their joy and their message as a kind of theatre, reaching out to those others who might be swayed to join the movement, and move to shape the future. Note too how choreographer Karole Armitage creates clusters of people as if to say they/ we are all one.
At the center of the story Paris Remillard makes Claude beautifully complete, while understudy Nicholas Belton imbues the role of Berger with goofy energy. Some funny things are said. And, in case you didn’t know, there is a kind of story, not a very complicated one but heading to a point.
Pittsburgh’s Gerome Ragni along with James Rado and Galt McDermot wrote wonderful songs: “Aquarius,” “Donna,” “Manchester,England,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Where Do I Go?,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Let the Sun Shine In.” This is not aggressive in- your- face rock. This is not dark and dirty rap extolling cruelty. This is a kind of sweetness that lives forever, even after these kids are gone. Even after other kids are gone, kids to be cherished for their sacrifices, even if they are in the wrong war.
Hair continues through February 20th at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
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