Broadway: Hair

This weekend I made my Broadway debut. Sort of. It was at a performance of Hair – the cast was singing the final number, and some of them placed railings on the stairs leading to the stage. Why would they do that, I thought? Unless… unless we were allowed to join them! Soon I was onstage, singing and dancing along with a multitude of audience and cast members. Prior to that, my hand had been held, my lap had been sat on, my hair had been caressed. In short, I spent the evening being groped by hippies. And it was wonderful.

Hair (book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot), which originally debuted in 1967, broke new ground in the theatre and is considered the defining rock musical. During its original run, Hair was the subject of much controversy, as it dealt with the subjects of race, nudity, and drugs.

Now that the musical has achieved status as a cultural icon, it can’t really create the shock and surprise of the original. But this revival radiates joy and energy, and uplifts you in much the same way I imagine that original production must have done.

Hair is about a community of peace-loving, drug-taking, political activist hippies. The plot is more a serious of musical vignettes than a straight through-line. The little plot there is involves Claude (endearingly played by Gavin Creel), and his struggle over where his life is heading and whether he should burn his draft card like all his friends.

With the open set and exposed brick wall, the visuals are all created by the cast, every one of whom exudes youthful exuberance, is constantly present, and connecting with each other. There was not a weak vocal moment that I can recall. Leading the cast is Will Swenson as Claude’s best friend Berger. Swenson bounds around the stage and the role of Berger is well served by his charisma. Under the direction of Diane Paulus, this production is most successful due to its strong sense of ensemble. Who knows if they all get along in real life, but onstage the love they have for each other is palpable. It’s a love and an energy that you cannot but help getting caught up in.

There’s a party onstage every night at the Al Hirschfield Theatre and best of all, you’re invited.

4 stars


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