If you're looking for a safe and nostalgic trip into an idealized look back at the Sixties, then the current revival of HAIR is the show for you. If, however, you desire the shocking and socially challenging experience that this tribal, love-rock musical was meant to be, then you will be sorely disappointed.
Director Diane Paulus takes no chances, sticking to every hippie cliché and exploring nothing new in the material, a choice counter to the very essence of this groundbreaking piece.
Everything you would expect to see is there, from long-haired flower children twirling with outstretched arms to uplifted fists making the "V" of peace to constant flaying hands that ape the twitchy fingers of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. Of course, such activities would be anticipated, but since they are so predictable they end up meaning nothing. The cast breaks the third wall repeatedly, but since we know they're going to do this, there is little excitement in the breaking. Paulus also seems to have trouble setting a balance between individual freedoms and allowing actions that steal focus, leading to an epidemic of needless stage business that further sickens this already suffering patient. The end result is a cast of twenty- to thirty-somethings playing dress-up and acting like teenage hippies. We don't see the hippies, we see the actors playing them.
Despite the lack of any inspirational direction, there are some good performances present. Will Swenson makes a fitting Berger. Wildly arrogant and poised for constant attention, he is relaxed in his roll and appropriately hammy. Kacie Sheik (Jeanie) and Andrew Kober (Margaret Mead) also stand out, providing moments to remember with strong vocals and sharp character work. Kober's "My Conviction" is one of the high points of the evening. On the low end of the tribal totem pole is Allison Case's Crissy, a combination of insipid sweetness crossed with weepy pleadings, all presented with the emotional subtlety of a traffic light.
The biggest disappointment with this revival is how thoroughly tame it is. There is no edge or grit and the whole production comes off as entirely too clean and content. In complete contrast to the original, nothing about it is shocking. Fifteen minutes on the Internet could offer more sex, nudity, and controversial thought and, without the songs, would seem a more interesting way to spend the evening. The score is still there and strong as ever, but the spirit has been lost somewhere over the last forty years. Whatever new buttons might be hiding in this piece, waiting to push our comfort levels, have been left completely un-pressed. Rather, the audience is put at ease, cozy and self-congratulatory, cheering at themselves for having elected a President of color as if we have now arrived in an age where race is no longer an issue. These songs and social issues remain ever relevant. This revival is not. - C. Jefferson Thom M
r. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.