The desire for a revolution that was pulsing through America in the past few years seems to have waned recently. A young black man was elected President, Guantanamo Bay is being closed, and the morning after pill is now available to minors without a doctor’s prescription. The change we have so fiercely longed for appears to be happening, slowly but surely. But that doesn’t mean we should become content or lacksadasical and not tune into the news anymore because we’re just too tired of it, an epidemic that seems to be sweeping America.
Happily there is a remedy for this. Anyone suffering from exhaustion or burnout from reading too many reports on the economy should make a trip to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where a triumphant revival of Hair is in performances. Propelled by a vibrant cast exuding joyous energy at every turn, viewing this musical will propel any person depressed with politics into the mood to protest, storming the AIG offices with pickets.
Wait! You say. Are you talking about political energy? About people caring enough about situations to protest in person, rather than post on a message board online? People who aren’t burned out from an overload of information, streaming from the internet or televisions 24 hours a day? Are you referring to energy, instead of apathy?
That is correct, as unbelievable as it seems, and that is exactly what is happening at this theater. Energy is everywhere in this production, coming from every actor onstage and almost every member of the audience as well.
What can I say? It’s contagious, especially when the people filled with this energy literally surround you as they do in this production. Almost every song (and there are many) in the performance includes actors coming into the audience, dancing in the aisles, climbing on chairs, scaling the sides of the stage and ascending into the balcony. While it may be surprising at first, as the show continues, it does not seem intrusive, but rather an invitation to join in the party.
That’s what this production feels like for most of the show – a wild, crazy party filled with sex and drugs. These hippies are heartfelt, and when they protest, their chants of, “Black, white, yellow, red/Copulate in a king sized bed,” and “Make love, not war” feel honest rather than trite.
Otherwise known as “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical,” Hair tells the (sort of) story of a group of hippies who hang out in the East Village. They smoke pot, they drop acid, they sleep with each other and they protest the war. When their friend Claude (Gavin Creel) is drafted for Vietnam, they encourage him to burn his draft card without hesitation. Claude, however, isn’t so sure if that’s a good idea.
It is Claude’s conflict that propels the meager plot of the show, and it is the depth of Creel’s acting that kept this critic on the edge of her seat, even though she knew how the show ends. While still not a full-fledged character and with little to define him except his indecision, Creel’s depiction of Claude fully utilizes every word of the script, making his desperation to appear exotic sympathetic rather than patronizing or even annoying, as he has been depicted in the past.
“I am Aquarius, destined for greatness or madness,” Claude desperately proclaims when people question him about himself. When his parents ask him what he’s got that makes him so great, his answer is that that he’s got life. The answer itself seems weak, but Creel’s rendition of the song is a joyous anthem of affirmation, as is the company’s performance of the show’s title song, which they transform into a rousing rendition of life and spirit.
While this critic could go on and on about Creel, his performance is hardly the only noteworthy one in this show. Will Swenson’s Berger absolutely oozes charisma every moment onstage, and Allison Case gives a particularly heartfelt performance as Chrissy. Darius Nichols is extremely amusing as Hud, and Cassie Levy sings a very moving rendition of “Easy To Be Hard” as Shelia. It would be impossible to name everyone in the company, though it is tempting. This group of actors shares a tangible chemistry onstage that is impossible to ignore, while performing the sleek, sensual choreography by Karole Armitage on the minimal, yet quite effective, set designs.
The staging is swift and efficient, executed so naturally that even Claude’s lengthy acid trip in the second act almost makes sense. The now famous nude scene that Hair is known for feels organic and natural, rather than an exhibition of showmanship. And a particularly moving moment is experienced in the final scene, where simplistic execution thrives and the temptation for overexposure is denied.
Some say the sixties are passé, that protesting has become a cliché and is ineffective and a waste of one’s time. Cynics say that a mere two months into his presidency, Obama has already failed the American people. Pessimists say the economy is beyond repair, and New Yorkers dread the MTA fare hikes set to take place in June. But after being urged by these flower children to “let the sunshine in,” I couldn’t help but hope. Just a little bit.