Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is pure exuberance, a pop-rock romp. Set in the turbulent anti-war movement of the late 60s, the musical is still one for all time. Following a rag-tag group of youth who seem to exist in a liminal world, on the cusp of everything— adulthood, death and war, revelation, accountability— theirs is the purest existence, or so they believe. Their world, like the usefulness of their plotline, hangs by a thin, yet unessential thread. What happens in Hair isn’t all that important. It’s the vibe, man.
The cast cavorts with the audience, intermittently performing in the aisle, standing on empty seats (though few and far between), offering flowers, protest pamphlets, love. And audiences for decades now have loved it, from the hirsute, writhing bodies, to the high-emotional pitch of the songs.
A thriving genre today (from musicals like American Idiot to Spring Awakening), this is the rock musical’s birthmother. It was also the last musical to put up original, top forty radio hits (“The Age of Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” etc.). Half the fun of the show is that everyone in the theatre knows most of the songs. Year after year, it makes just about everybody’s list of the most important musicals of all time.
Admittedly, “The Age of Aquarius” is really my parents’ age. Almost fifty years later, post-Vietnam war, post-many a war, our fervor to fight for the ideals the characters of Hair are so impassioned by seems to have dampened. Despite its enduring popularity, the politico-social impact of Hair seems negligible. Today, the U.S. military is engaged in at least six international conflicts. The debate over same-sex marriage, immigration and women’s rights have created virtual battlegrounds of state and national politics. So, it is a little like an out-of-body experience to witness the urgency of what ultimately comes across as a gentler time. But, perhaps because our time seems so harrowing, it is all the more enjoyable to revel in another.
Claude, played by Noah Plomgren, is the most developed character, a clarion youth who goes from parental rebellion to acceptance and the eventual jaws of the war machine. His friend, Berger, the casual leader of their gang, is the standout madcap force you would expect. Brian Crawford Scott takes the character to a slightly more calculated place, with an edge of darkness that was intriguing.
Mary Kate Morrissey who plays Sheila, a college student protester and Berger’s somewhat neglected girlfriend, is a vocal standout and a nice tether to the billowing action of the rest. As far as entertainment value, you would be hard pressed to find better. The touring company is boiling over with energy. Overall, the cast is a pleasure.
Several songs deserve note. “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade” remain as alarming and relevant and beautifully subversive as ever. Carl James’ Hud is musically solid and sexy, particularly in the eponymous song, “Hair.” Jason Moody as the omnisexual Woof, is a reliable naughty cherub and his every delivery a pleasure. Most songs are performed en masse with the whole tribe chiming in, the most remarkable of those being “Ain’t Got No Grass.” Danyel Fulton as Dionne, who opens and closes the show with its most classic numbers, “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In,” is quite a talent and I left wishing we had heard much more from her.
Over such a long production history, Hair’s awards are many. The pop-rock, anthemic quality of the music is owed to Galt MacDermot. The lyrics belong to James Rado. Though somewhat sporadic and less important than the constancy of song, the book is effective and thanks to Gerome Ragni. Director Diane Paulus is the genius behind the very successful revival.
While in some ways the continued relevancy of Hair is a little dismaying – these issues seem all the more oppressive for their long-lasting hold on our society –it is, evidently, a song we need to hear over and over again. Thanks to the touring cast of Hair, I witnessed an auditorium filled with theatergoers letting the sun shine in. And it was pretty groovy.
There are two performances left at the Walton Arts Center this Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling (479) 443.5600 or by visiting their website at waltonartscenter.org.