BWW Reviews: L.A.'s Joyful 'HAIR'-Raising Is The Place To Be-In
Oh, those kooky kids in the 1960's. While some may say that the anarchy and rebellion that was incited by this groovy generation's counter-culture are perhaps considerably less threatening than what kids today are capable of bringing, they still managed, quite convincingly, to scare the crap out of their old-fashioned parents and even society at large.
But, alas, these passionate, outspoken kids all just needed someone to listen to them, and that their opinions—however avant garde they may be—is worth considering seriously. Really, all they wanted was to be unfettered in becoming their authentic selves, do away with "the Man's" oppressive status quo, and maybe even enjoy a few carnal and herbal pleasures along the way.
Well, leave it to Art to give them a voice. In 1967, a daring, thought-provoking theatrical enterprise was set about to spotlight these very issues in, of all things, an off-Broadway rock musical, featuring music by Galt MacDermot and a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. First produced at Joe Papp's Public Theater, their groundbreaking, controversial hit not only created a new identity for a theatrical musical, it also gave voice to a progressive movement that caused quite a stir within the conservative community. A year later, the show would become a Broadway phenomenon. This song celebration of hippie subculture and the sexual revolution is known as HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which recently spawned an overwhelmingly lauded Broadway revival.
Directed with great care and blissful appeal by Diane Paulus, this spiritually buoyant new touring production of the 2009 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical revival, HAIR—now performing a strictly-limited three-week engagement at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through January 23—revels in its naughty, raucous fun and its sonically-adventurous musical soundtrack. A delightful hybrid of vaudeville high-jinks, rock concert, art house exhibition, and curiosity theater, this genuinely entertaining show rightly focuses less on its unstructured storyline, but more in its likable cast of characters and the celebratory, almost party-like atmosphere they share with us through song.
From the start of the soulfully gorgeous "Aquarius," and through a rapid-fire succession of humorous, outlandish rock ditties that include odes to "Sodomy" and "Hashish," these beautiful creatures' main motivation is to entertain its audience, while dropping a bit of peace, love and knowledge in our laps. The show asks us to care about these young people, and quite easily over the course of the show, we do. Probably the most interactive, audience-participatory version of this musical I have ever seen, the theater setting morphs away, as if the audience is instead inside this "Be-In" with them.
While most of the show's action happens on stage, more often times than not, the actors routinely rush down the aisles to share the jubilation with audience members. It's as if we have been invited into these young people's inner sanctum with open arms—as either curious observers or pro-hippie supporters. And, wouldn't you know it, the lively, extremely talented cast does a great job of rousing us to join in the infectious merriment of it all. Even at Thursday's celebrity-filled opening night audience, the giddy cheers and screams flew freely.
Like any merry band of misfits, they have irresistibly charismatic people in their center. Their ringleader in this techni-colorful circus tent is Berger (the athletic, terrific Steel Burkhart), a fun-loving boy-child on the cusp of manhood that lives solely for all the pleasures in life, consequences and responsibilities be damned. He has a penchant for weed, sex, and dropping "trou" so he can run around in nothing but his sueded-fringe undies (well, just briefly). Naturally, it is pointless to resist his charms.
Berger's best buddy is Claude (the marvelous Paris Remillard), a gentle, well-meaning dreamer who wishes to one day uproot himself from his seemingly unremarkable existence in Flushing, Queens to pursue a filmmaking career. So disenchanted with his station in life, he make-believes he's from Manchester, England. His parents, unsurprisingly, want him to ditch the long hair and fulfill his army draft notice, much to the protestations of his anti-war, anti-government friends. Caught in a tug-of-war between facing responsibilities or facing a life of uncertainty (after all, being hippie won't pay the bills), Claude cannot decide which path to maturity to take, asking himself, "Where do I go? Follow my heart beat? Where do I go? Follow my head?"