When asked in the program for the new Broadway production of Hair, ‘Why Hair now?’ Darius Nichols, who is currently playing the role of Hud, quotes George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are plenty of similarities between today and the 1960s, when Hair takes place (specifically 1967). 42 years ago, Hair originated in the Public Theater amidst an unpopular war and a generation searching for love and peace. Today Hair’s message of hope resonates just as much as it did all those years ago, which has made now the perfect time to revive a Broadway classic.
A screen stands in front of an empty stage, on it is emblazoned a phoenix sun in multiple colored. Although the Al Hirschfeld Theatre is traditional, with its arches and red velvet seats, the audience waiting in anticipation, is instantly brought back to the sixties when the screen rises and the musical begins.
One of the reasons Hair is a modern classic is because of the music. The first true rock musical, Hair shocked and inspired people with its provocative and controversial lyrics and the music – infused with a rock sound that was prevalent in the sixties, but not heard on the Broadway stage, and, on some songs, a soul sound, that gives each song a distinct difference from the others. Standouts from the show include “Aquarius”, arguably the most famous song from the show that soars in music and in the actor’s voices and “Electric Blues”, the fun Act 2 opener, completed with the most stellar lighting design of the night. A dream sequence spanning, approximately, six songs is expertly staged and the final number of “Let the Sun Shine In” is beautiful ode to hope. However the best performance during the show is the title number “Hair”. Performed with exuberance at the 2009 Tony Awards on stage in a smaller theater, the song holds just as much life.
None of this would work, however, without a talented, young cast who believes in the message of the show and can deliver the work with the same type of enthusiasm and life seven times a week. This cast does just that. Particularly the two leads, Gavin Creel and Will Swenson, both Tony nominated and both committed and perfectly cast in their roles. Gavin Creel is fantastic as Claude, who is an Aquarius destined for “greatness or madness”. He makes Claude’s unease about the draft feel relatable, understandable and palpable. Will Swenson as the stoner, rebel rouser Berger, infuses the character with a humor and innocence, yet he knows exactly what he believes and what he is fighting for. Another standout is Sasha Allen who, as Dionne, is responsible for singing lead on the two most famous songs in the show, “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In”, and her pure, soaring voice suits them both perfectly.
Also adding to the effectiveness of the show is the lighting and costumes used and worn during the show. The lighting compliments the mood of the current songs perfectly, whether that requires the stage to be brightly colored or dark for the more poignant scenes. The costumes revel in all that was great about the sixties, bell bottoms, bright colors, patterns and more adorn the actors, and make believing the audience has been transported to 1967 that much easier.
One of the most intriguing and inviting aspects of Hair is that there is no fourth wall. The characters mention the audience numerous times and, even better, come off the stage into the audience and interact with them, whether it be a hug, a kiss, a handshake or giving out fliers for the be-in that plays an important role in the story. And no members of the audience are left out, as the actors go into the orchestra seats as well as the seats on the second level of the theater to celebrate life with every member of the audience. And the participation lasts well into the curtain call, when the cast invites audience members up on stage to dance with them to one final number, an act rarely seen on Broadway and much welcomed.
The story of Hair involves a tribe of hippies fighting for their beliefs and living life to the fullest on the streets, is an uplifting tale, set to the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the draft. As their fight progresses, their message of love and peace becomes clear, as does how far they are willing to go in their search for love and peace. That message of hope and peace is important today, and was even more controversial when the show first premiered in 1967, as the show truly mirrored what was going on in the world, the good and the bad, and brought these issues to the stage and social consciousness. From the exuberant search for peace to a poignant ending, that remains hopeful, Hair is a riveting, inspiring show.
The reason Hair works, as a show and as a revival, is a little bit of everything; the costumes, the actors, the music, the message. But most importantly because, as Kacie Sheik, who plays the character of Jeanie, says when asked ‘why Hair now?’ in the program, “Peace is contagious. Love is contagious.”