HELL, NO, WE WON'T GO The cast of "Hair," mostly not getting it.
THAT old saying "If you remember the '60s, you weren't really there" isn't completely true.
It was possible during those long-ago days to be a good part-time hippie and spend enough time not stoned to both observe and experience, even savor, the era. Therefore I can say authoritatively that the current incarnation of "Hair" on Broadway is not groovy. Why so many otherwise astute critics see things differently is a bafflement.
What they're doing at the St. James Theater these days takes the name of the Summer of Love in vain. But then we were always for freedom of speech, even blasphemy.
Still, some thoughts:
(1) The first rule of acting, we've been told, is to love and believe in your character. Most of the actors onstage in this version of "Hair" appear to be playing good-natured Halloween dress-up rather than making us believe that they've chosen their clothes and hairstyles specifically to tell the "Mad Men" establishment to go to hell (yes, it was all about peace and love, but not to your parents). The one actress who seems to understand and support the agenda is Caren Lyn Tackett as Sheila, but Sheila never has much to do.
(2) Steel Burkhardt does have some fine moments as Berger, the unofficial leader of the tribe of flower children who make up the ensemble. But he can't manage to exude the joy that one of this musical's songs ("I've Got Life") exemplifies for more than a few seconds at a time. To see what was so infectious about the attitudes of the era, see Treat Williams in Milos Forman's 1979 film version of "Hair." And believe me, by 1979 it already seemed like ancient history.
(3) All those cast members wandering through the aisles and ruffling audience members' hair isn't free and freaky. It's aggressive and often condescending. God help us, it might as well be "Cats."
(4) Unlike the actors in the 2011 "Hair," real male hippies did not grab their genitals in public. They didn't need to remind the world in general that they were men. They were too busy having frequent, carefree, unprotected sex with whatever attractive, willing, like-minded young women (or men) happened to grab their eye.
(5) "Frank Mills" is a sweet song. About a girl who meets a boy in front of a movie theater, lends him money and can't forget how much he looked like George Harrison. But when it's the most moving number in the production, something is off balance.
(6) O.K., it is faintly ridiculous that young people of the '60s were so taken with staring at the back of their own hands after smoking marijuana ("My soul is in orbit with God face to face" .... "How dare they try to end this beauty?"). We'll give you that.
(7) The nude scene right before intermission is an act of defiance. Doing it in low light and treating it casually misses the point.
Back in 1967-68, "Hair" was a cultural blip, but it was an intense, beautiful blip. The score was daring and sweet and funny and joyous. To hear every almost every one of its songs misappropriated now is a bad trip, dude. As for that "oh, how sweet it all was!" sentiment: Trust me, five years from now (at the most), someone will refer to 2011 as a "more innocent age." And so it goes.
"Hair," by Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot, directed by Diane Paulus, St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. Closes Sept. 10, 2011.
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