Sunday, April 5, 2009


HAIR returns to Broadway.

I was so happy to hear that the latest revival of HAIR on Broadway was a success. Of course, we’ll have to see whether it can weather the economic downturn, but at this point, both it and the revival of West Side Story seem to be selling lots of tickets.

Writes Ben Brantley of the New York Times:

You’ll be happy to hear that the kids are all right. Quite a bit more than all right — the young cast members of Diane Paulus’s thrilling revival of “Hair” show no signs of becoming domesticated…On the contrary, they’re tearing down the house in the production that opened on Tuesday night at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. And any theatergoer with a pulse will find it hard to resist their invitation to join the demolition crew. This emotionally rich revival of “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” from 1967 delivers what Broadway otherwise hasn’t felt this season: the intense, unadulterated joy and anguish of that bi-polar state called youth.”

Reading on in the review, it becomes clear that this production has successfully realized that "revival" and "archival" do not mean the same thing.

Revivals have to be seen through the lens of today’s world. Like all great pieces of art, the themes expressed in the classics (and by classics I mean Musicals) are timeless, because they are - human. What changes is the context within which these themes play themselves out.

Whether it’s the Vietnam War and cultural upheaval or global terrorism and economic collapse; the world is still a terrifying place for young people who try to find their place while remaining idealistic and hopeful.

The Toronto cast welcomes the audience up on stage at the end of the show, 1970.

This show has special resonance for me. It was the very first live Broadway musical that I had seen. I had just arrived in Toronto in 1970 looking very much like any of the its cast members - long hair, hip huggers, Jesus sandals and enveloped in a aromatic fog of patchouli.

While standing in front of the Royal Alexandra waiting for the rest of my community theatre group to arrive, I was approached by many of the “burb” people and asked if I was in the show. For a young kid from Moncton who dreamed of being in a real live Broadway show; this was very cool indeed.

Once inside, from the moment the lights dimmed and Claude swung form the very high third balcony, I was transfixed. The exuberance, sexiness and music had taken control of every receptor my body had.

I returned to Moncton later that year to finish High School. I bought the Cast Album and played and sang along with it obsessively. While hitching a ride to Halifax on the weekends, I would sing the whole cast album in my head (or aloud when not in a car). For a change, sometimes I would sing the songs in backward order ending with “The Age of Aquarius”.

When the movie came out in 1979, I was very anxious. The pre release buzz was that the show was past its due date; that the free form of the play couldn’t be filmed (how many times have we heard that?) Although not blown away, I did enjoy the movie, due in large part to Treat William’s portrayal of Berger and the amazing choreography of Twyla Tharp. But I feel the movie suffered a bit by being too linear; depending too much on plot at the expense of portraying the sense of anarchy that made the stage production so vital.

Many people say that HAIR a period piece; that the whole hippie movement has now just another marketing tool, another Halloween costume option. But the truth is as Ben Brantley points out in his review:

“That there’s nothing of the museum — or, worse, of the vintage jukebox — about Ms. Paulus’s production isn’t because she’s reinterpreted or even reframed it. She does what Bartlett Sher did for South Pacific last year, finding depths of character and feeling in what most people dismissed as dried corn. It’s not so much what Ms. Paulus brings to “Hair”; it’s what she brings out of it, vital elements that were always waiting to be rediscovered.”

Not being independently wealthy, I can only hope that this Broadway revival becomes a huge success and spawns a fine National Touring production that will someday make its way to Montréal or at least, and more likely, to Toronto.

One of my favourite songs from the movie version: White Boys/Black Boys:

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