Daily Dojo

Let The Sunshine In Your . . . HAIR!

Okay, so I normally don’t write about theatre much these days, and I vowed not to review any more theatre shows as that I felt it wasn’t really my bag, man.

But I’m about to fracking break that vow right here and now for HAIR, which is running as part of the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park program.

I saw it last weekend, and it rocked my fucking world right out, man. Totally. This is excellent work and may be the best piece of theatre I’ve seen in the last ten years, or longer.

Reader beware, full blown theatre RANT to follow, along with raves for the revival of HAIR.

They did everything right, from the casting to the costumes to the set and having actors who actually can sing the songs extremely well, it totally worked.

From the opening moment, when the lights fade and a woman steps out on stage singing the opening of “The Age of Aquarius” they had the audience in the palm of their hand.

We clapped and cheered and stomped our feet throughout the whole show.

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it . . . I confess, I’ve been fairly disappointed with theatre as of late. I’ve forgotten how powerful and raw and current it can be, and it took a rarely revived 41 year old show to remind me just how awesome theatre can be.

Chances are you know the music but you don’t really know the show . . . most people associate it with the Milos Forman movie of the same name, however the film differs greatly from the show itself . . . the film incorporated a more linear narrative and also had what I felt to be a rather “look at the funny fish in the fishtank” view of Berger and his band of hippies - granted, that approach worked well for Forman when he directed ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, but doesn’t serve HAIR nearly as well, as that the show is, at its heart, about a band of hippies in Central Park who perform skits and songs for the folks who pass them by, talking about love and freedom, man, yeah!

At it’s heart, HAIR is completely inclusive of everyone (to the point where characters not only interact with the audience, but characters emerge from the audience to participate) which the film doesn’t quite get.

And they change Claude’s journey very much in the movie, making him a rube. All in all, the film is much colder than the show. The show is hot, babe.

Let me say this again. For this staging, they did EVERYTHING EXACTLY right. The actors look and sound like real hippies, not kids playing at it. They feel real.

Berger (Will Swenson), Claude (Jonathan Groff) and Sheila (Caren Lyn Manual) as the leads are uniformly perfect (especially Swenson) but the whole tribe just really hits all the right notes, which in a show with music as well known as this one, is especially important.

Like many theatre majors, HAIR was a soundtrack that we all sang to while in college, sang to and begged our professors and Artistic Directors to do, and every time was refused, because the show is so raw.

Make no mistake, this show is raw, every sacred cow that exists is skewered, Religion, Sex, Government, Drugs, everything. The Song lyrics include tributes to Sodomy, Fellatio and Cunnilingus and Cocaine and Colored Spades and Spics and Black Boys and, well, you get the idea. They skewer the Church and Buddha and parents and even themselves. Nothing is left untouched. But there is so much joy in how they approach it, it’s hard not to laugh along with them.

And they get naked and they get high and they laugh and they cry.

And oh yeah, they protest an immoral war. Theirs is Vietnam, but it’s hard not to be touched by it.

Perhaps the strongest image I’ve seen in theatre in years is the last image of this show, which is of a dead soldier, in uniform, laid out on an American flag. A soldier who, as a character, we’d gotten to know over the course of two and a half hours along with his hippie friends, and seeing him lay there on a flag, dead over a war that today we cannot honestly say was worth it, it’s heartbreaking.

Think about it. This is what pisses me off about theatre today. The strongest, most passionate and articulate statement about our political and social landscape, at least that I’ve seen in the last eight years, comes from a show that is 41 years old.

Fuck. That’s when it hit me that part of my ennui toward theatre has been how frighteningly conservative* it’s gotten, how bland and safe, where we worry about offending groups and shy away from topics that may criticize** our leaders or the war (unless it premieres in London first, or it’s by a London playwright, then it’s okay) and instead what we get are glossy amusement park rides like LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL or THE WEDDING SINGER and the only time theatre gets political is by importing some show from London or a one man show by a guy who doesn’t even write his show, he monologues with a sheet of talking points*** about how theatre failed us and how terrible homeland security is and those that book him pat themselves on the back on how “edgy” theatre can be.

And then HAIR comes back and the actors protest the war, protest right at the audience, shouting “PEACE NOW, FREEDOM NOW!” and tears come because you realize that fuck man, times have changed. Because there should be shows doing that now, there should be musicals and plays just sticking it to THE MAN.

Now that’s impossible, because THE MAN is the only one who can afford Broadway tickets, at a hundred bucks a pop. Or Off-Broadway tickets, at forty to sixty bucks a pop.

And if a show is done Off-Off Broadway that sticks it to the man, it has to be finished with said sticking in 16 performances, because that’s all that’s allowed under the Showcase Code.

It used to be a show like HAIR would go to Broadway (which HAIR did to, back then) and now, no way, babe.

Now it doesn’t even belong there, which is theatre’s loss. Truly.

In fact, the pre-show speech**** by Artistic Director Oskar Eustis at the beginning was more political than most theatre, and definitely more courageous.

Kudos to the Public Theatre for bringing this back, 41 years after they first produced it. Like I said, I’ve never got to see the real show, and it totally blew me away (like many others in the audience, I went up onstage for the last number and sang and danced with the Tribe) and made me think not only about then, not only about today, but also about tomorrow.

I completely and utterly recommend this show.

I thank them for reminding me just how cool it can be to sing and dance and talk about raw naked actions that have meaning and most of all, love.

So it opens this week and runs until the 31st. Tickets are free. Go see HAIR.

POST-SCRIPT: The NY Times has an article on the show here: Memories of ‘Hair’ - Tie-dyed Time Warp for Aquarians and All


*As the author of SPOOGE - THE SEX & LOVE MONOLOGUES, THE PENIS PAPERS and THE MEN’S ROOM, I can attest that theatre is pretty damn conservative on the whole, based on my experiences. Except for fringe elements, it seems theatre needs to be not too confrontational or too dirty. It wasn’t always this way, I think.

**In 2003, I participated in No Shame Against the War, which performed theatre pieces protesting the invasion (pieces like THESE) and the war, all across the country EXCEPT New York City, as that the guy running the New York No Shame at that time didn’t want to run anything critical of the war or government. Yep. That’s what he said.

Additionally, when my short play I Am America was produced in Florida in 2005, I was forced to cut lines because an actor refused to say them - It was Liberty’s last line in this section:

There was a lot of money being made there and we weren’t seeing one red cent of it. Not only that, that Saddam was an evil prick. He imprisoned, tortured and killed his own people.

He can’t do that to his people.

Only we can do that to his people.

Which is a funny line (and later found to be fricking true, may I add) - but the actor refused to “falsely” accuse our country of torture, or something. I never found out for sure, I wasn’t there. All I heard was the actor refused to say it, it bothered him too much. Ironic as hell now, ain’t it?

***to be fair, I haven’t see HOW THEATRE FAILED AMERICA or IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING, but the buzz I’ve heard on both shows is excellent. I just can’t help but wonder, since the author claims up front that he only outlines ideas he wants to talk about and then just talks, but doesn’t write the shows out, if it’s really writing? Isn’t that just talking?

****Oskar’s pre-curtain speech was courageous, politically, basically calling out the Iraq war for what it is, wrong, and how that echoes in the work you’re about to see (he also explains what draft cards are, since most young people probably don’t know and therefore don’t get the significance of burning the draft card) . . . would that more people in such positions were just as forthright.

I should add, STANDARD DISCLAIMER, that this opinion of theatre is based only upon my experiences and observations, and I can certainly be cranky on this subject . . . I do know people who do create wonderfully fun, raw and sharp political theatre with passion and verve, they’re out there . . . I just think that there are far less opportunities for folks like that then they was back in the days when HAIR premiered. My point is that shows like that wouldn’t make it to Broadway, like HAIR did, and usually get relegated to the Fringes.

3 Responses to “ Let The Sunshine In Your . . . HAIR!”

  1. JL Harrison Says:

    Bravo! Thanks for putting into words what I too had felt whilst watching HAIR.

    Now to get Makia there some-how to see it as well!

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