Hair @ Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York

cast list
Sasha Allen, Ato Blankson-Wood, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Allison Case, Gavin Creel, Lauren Elder, Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, Kaitlyn Kiyan, Andrew Kober, Megan Lawrence, Caissie Levy, Nicole Lewis, John Moauro, Darius Nicholas, Brandon Pearson, Megan Reinking, Paris Remillard, Bryce Ryness, Saycon Sengbloh, Maya Sharpe, Kacie Sheik, Theo Stockman, Will Swenson, Tommar Wilson

directed by
Diane Paulus
The exuberant revival of Hair that began its life last summer at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park as part of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park continues to spread its love, this time on Broadway.

The energy that wafted out into the dark summer skies when this production played the park, an asset at the time, threatens to blow the roof off the place – in a good way – when contained within the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

The sixties-themed “American tribal love-rock musical,” as it’s billed, focuses on a “tribe” of young people coping with life and love just as the draft is beginning to recruit America’s youth to fight in Vietnam.

It’s the last piece of musical theatre to contribute to the American pop music canon, yielding hit songs like Aquarius, Let The Sunshine In, and the title song. Forty-plus years on, it’s still an oft-performed classic.
Increased audience interaction keeps the “be-in” vibe of the production intact. The spectators feel even more a part of the action on Broadway than they did in Central Park, despite the Delacorte’s more expansive, inclusive theatre design. Cast members are constantly roaming the theatre distributing daisies and flyers and more than occasionally interacting with the audience, even pulling people into the aisles to participate (something to be aware of when considering aisle seats).

Another major part of what makes the show so special is the obvious bond amongst the cast members. Most of the cast has been together nearly two years, and this fact is clear from watching their unified efforts congeal on-stage. In the summer of 2007, they did a free reading of the show, followed by the Shakespeare in the Park production last summer, and now Broadway – the icing on the cake. Let’s just say that, by now, they’re tight.

Though many of the Broadway cast members are returning, however, there are several welcome replacements. Gavin Creel as Claude provides the show with an emotional core – both ecstatic and ambivalent – that it never quite possessed when Jonathan Groff and Christopher Hanke were playing the role.

Similarly, as Sheila, Caissie Levy, who replaces Caren Lyn Manuel, adds a certain charm to the production. For starters, she has one of the best voices on Broadway. Her renditions of Easy To Be Hard and I Believe In Love are highlights. But to top it all off is her immense openness of spirit – which threatens to descend into naivete – but which is thankfully undercut by that certain activist edge that the role of Sheila requires.

Returning cast members Will Swenson, Kacie Sheik, and Bryce Ryness as Berger, Jeannie, and Woof respectively are also all wonderful, as is the rest of the so-called tribe. There are no weak links to be found. Scanning across the stage, there never appears to be an idle cast member throughout. Thanks to those in charge of the production, the specificity of character on display is impressive.

In the time since its previous run, director Diane Paulus has sharpened her work, combing out some of the kinks in her production. Most significantly, unlike uptown, the moment of Claude’s death during the show’s finale is given the moment of weight and silence it deserves before the encore of Let The Sunshine In – and without compromising the high spirits of the production as a whole at that.

The production still suffers from drippy clump-and-hump choreography by Karole Armitage, who seems to have instructed the actors to form small groups, shimmy and shake, simulate sex acts, and generally flail about rather than to really dance. Thankfully, her contributions only rarely detract.

As the production in its first half threatens to burst with defiance and glee, director Paulus has wisely kept the dark tone of the second act intact, particularly during the “trip” sequence, wherein American history is distorted in order to expose its absurdities.

This new Hair – because this Broadway transfer truly feels like a new experience – is one that absolutely must be seen to be believed. The music is as great as ever, the cast is better than it was in the park, and the story has never carried as much resonance as it does now thanks to Diane Paulus’s fine-tuning.

The production, which still bursts with the groovy, earthy, pulsating life it possessed last summer, only goes to show that you can take the Hair out of the park, but – thankfully – you needn’t take the park (or at least the spirit of the park) out of the Hair.

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