Give me down-to-there Hair: Now playing at the Buell Theatre
2009 Broadway revival cast photos below by Joan Marcus.
I don't know exactly what I expected when I walked into the Buell Tuesday for the opening night of Hair, and after the curtain went up and the once-controversial musical got started, even my theater-going companion, an old hippie in every sense of the word, wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
It's a show with a history of transitions, from its late-'60s beginnings at Joe Papp's Public Theater in New York to the retooled version that wowed Broadway and the resulting 1979 movie by Miloš Forman; this one, the touring Broadway revival, is pleasant enough, perhaps best viewed through a haze of pot smoke, or at least after downing a glass of wine. (Ripple is fine, though I had a nice pinot noir at the Mercury Cafe beforehand.) Some memorable performers rise up from and sink back into Hair's resident "tribe" throughout the show, and the overall production is fun, whether you lived through those times or not.
For the record, the much-ballyhooed nudity in Hair is gratuitous by today's standards, with no real purpose in furthering the wisp of a plot, other than to announce that it's there. Hippies were like that, you know. In 1971, local promoter Bob Garner booked the show into what was then the Auditorium Theatre, but was thwarted by the threat of arrest, both for him and anyone who dared to disrobe on the stage. He was happily able to move the show to Boulder's Macky Auditorium for a successful run in the more lenient Republic.
But the palpable presence of touch in Hair -- the tribe of hairy humans onstage constantly brushing up against one another, without regard to gender -- is another thing. That's really what holds this show together, which otherwise is little more than a revue of great songs and well-placed anthems. The players mingle often with the audience, too, drawing the watchers into the story. It was particularly joyful when they invited people to come onstage at the end, resulting in a colorful finale that even featured some opening-night blue-hairs among the strata of age-groups.
I'm very careful not to be overwhelmed by nostalgia, so for me, Hair isn't about that. But it's still a little pocket of history, as relevant to young people just finding the voice to protest in the streets as it is to the boomers who remember the long-ago anti-war marches on Washington. It's about disparate people moving as one and the amoebic force they represent. It's even a story about people today and the universe of newfangled ways they have for finding one another. And it's stoned, silly fun, sometimes even uplifting.
Thumbs up, I say, Hair is a go.
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