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A CurtainUp Review
Hair- The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Hair Moves to Broadway. . .and Triumphantly so!
Gavin Creel and Will Swenson in Hair
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Even as people lined up at dawn to nab a ticket for the vibrant revival of this ground breaking, sad yet joyous 40year-young musical last summer, rumors began flying about moving it to Broadway. But for every person who said it must be moved, there was someone who said the move wouldn't work, that without the open sky and grassy surroundings, this exuberant production would lose its magic.
When it was decided to move forward, the troubled economy threatened the project, but, unlike Lehman Brothers and other financial organizations, the Hair
production got its needed backing. Now it's rocked into the Hirschfield Theater with all the magic and energy of the Central Park production intact. . . and then some.
The new members of The Tribe couldn't be better. With Saycon Sengbloh stepping in for Sasha Allen, the new Dionne, at the performance I attended, it's clear that this is an all-star cast and that you can count on the singing and dancing to be splendid even when a top listed player is out. That said, however, I wouldn't want to miss Will Swensen, who again brings his infectious charisma to the role of Berger, or his new best friend Claude. Gavin Creel who is as endearing and strong voiced as Les found Jonathan Groff to be.
Director Diane Paulus has actually managed to heighten the show's emotional punch and bring the feel of an exuberant outdoor festival to the Hirschfield's conventional proscenium stage. From its fabulous and frantic "Aquarius" opening to the devastating finale that quickly morphs into an exuberant, celebratory onstage dance party, this is the most buoyant and audience involving musical on Broadway. The hippy era may be gone and somewhat exotic for most of the audience, but the youthful angst
and intense yearnings for peace, love and equality is timeless, as are the MacDermot/Ragni/Rado songs. If not all the 40 songs arestick-to-the-ear hummers like "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In," they are nevertheless made memorable by the energy and verve of the cast, Karole Armitage's colorful choreography and the band that is part of Scott Pask's simple but just right scenic design which puts the excellent band right on stage.
The stage floor now has a a real carpet instead of a carpet of grass, but there are still fresh flowers —bunches of them handed out by audience interacting Tribe actors during their many trips up and down the aisles (as well as up into the side boxes. And so, everything Les Gutman loved about the show outdoors, applies now that it's moved indoors for what promises to be a box office bracing, lengthy run.
Standouts among those reprising their original roles include Bryce Ryness as Woof, Darius Nichols as Hud Allison Case as Crissy and Caissie Levy as Sheila. Andrew Kober and Megan Lawrence once again have the audience in stitches as Dad/Margaret Mead(Mother/Buddahdalirama
The election of Barack Obama between the Park and this production is a hopeful sign that Hair
did succeed, at least to some extent, in being a wakeup call. But the hope and energy this African-American president has brought us, still leaves the world outside the Hirschfield beset by clouds of war and economic problems. So, to paraphrase Les's advice at the end of his review: You owe it to yourself to get a dose of this feel good musical tonic. It's likely to be your one chance to be able to say . that you've danced on a Broadway stage.
To read a review of an Encores! style concert presentation of Hair four summers ago, go here
Broadway Production Notes
Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography by Karole Armitage
before key principal names indicate their being holdovers from the Central Park production) Sasha Allen (Dionne —at the performance reviewed, tribe member Saycon Sengbloh substituted for Allen), *Allison Case (Crissy), Gavin Creel (Claude), *Andrew Kober (Dad/Margaret Mead), *Megan Lawrence (Mother/Buddahdalirama), Caissie Levy (Sheila), *Darius Nichols (Hud),* Bryce Ryness (Woof), Saycon Sengbloh (Abraham Lincoln), *Kacie Sheik (Jeanie), Theo Stockman (Hubert) and *Will Swenson (Berger); plus tribe members Ato Blankson-Wood, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, Kaitlin Kiyan, Nicole Lewis (playing the Abraham Lincoln role at the performance reviewed), John Moauro, Brandon Pearson, Megan Reinking, Paris Remillard, , Maya Sharpe,Theo Stockman, and Tommar Wilson.
Sets: Scott Pask
Costumes: Michael McDonald
Lighting: by Kevin Adams
Sound by Acme Sound Partners
Orchestrations by Mr. MacDermot
Music director:, Nadia DiGiallonardo
Music coordinator:, Seymour Red Press
Wig design: Gerard Kelly
Stage manager: Nancy Harrington
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission
Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th Street, (212) 239-6200.
From 3/10/09; opened officially 3/31/09; closing 6/27/10.
Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 2 pm and 7:30 pm.
Ticket prices: $122 to $37--Premium Seat Price $252.
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer April 4, 2009
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes
---from "The Flesh Failures"
By a tradition started, I presume, not long after Hair shattered the quiet of what
had been the Astor Library, at the end of the show, the audience is invited onstage to join the Tribe (as the cast is known, also by tradition). Never before, I venture, has the resulting "be-in" achieved the astonishing critical mass that Scott Pask's grassy oval stage and the outdoor air at the Delacorte engenders. Pre-teens (with parents willing to overlook the warnings of nudity, not to mention a plethora of age-inappropriate subjects) mix with late teens and early twenty-somethings (who may or may not fully appreciate what all the fuss over burning draft cards is about) and their grandmothers (who must've had to dig deep in their closets to locate the tie-dyed finery, love beads and oversized peace symbols they show up wearing).
The Tribe (Photo: Michal Daniel)
As I watched the throng experiencing this moment, questions started coming to mind. Has Hair reconnected our war-weary world with that of 1968? Are we the same, but for a different war and a different president? Watching the Tribe go through its paces, knowing what we now know, we can't help but be struck by how innocent they were. Four decades later, we rise to the sound of the explosive MacDermot/Ragni/Rado score, but while we still respond enthusiastically to the supreme visions of its lonely tunes, are we now wise to those new told lies?
What many people dancing on that stage every night probably don't know is that when Hair was performed at what we now call the Public Theater, it didn't include its now-famous finalé, "Let the Sun Shine In". Fearing that the show's ending wasn't sufficiently upbeat, the creators supplied the coda (among a myriad of other changes) before the show arrived on Broadway. It was not to be a celebration, but rather an entreaty, a prayer, a song of hope.
It is in that moment, and in that spirit, that the decades, however wise, naive, well-informed or lied to, come together. This, I believe to be the secret of Hair, and its legacy. Hair has virtually no fourth wall, and its gumbo of songs and dialogue largely serve to introduce its characters and, perhaps as importantly today, its sense of time and place. Few shows strive as literally to bring the audience into the experience, and that's what accounts for much of its continuing vitality.
What director would seem more right for this sensibility than Diane Paulus, who is best known for having created and directed the goings-on at the Shakespeare-in-a-nightclub extravaganza,The Donkey Show? That she manages to get the audience as engaged as she does is perhaps not surprising. That she is able to infect the cast with so much of the Hair gestalt — to which she does not come by experience since she, like virtually everyone else involved in this production, did not live through the Sixties — is a great accomplishment. But what's most exciting here is that, with the surviving bookwriter-lyricist, she has cobbled together something much more than just a "happening". The success of what Paulus has done is aided in no small way by Karole Armitage's flowing choreography, which provides a sense of self without ever losing its sense of "Tribe".
Paulus wisely resists any temptation to bring Hair explicitly into the 21st Century. Its parallels don't require explication. The only post hoc comment this production makes is the wooden fence Scott Pask has placed behind his grassy platform, it's contours unmistakably referencing Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial. Similarly, the resplendent score, rich in memorable songs, demonstrates that, the revolution it caused forty years ago notwithstanding, it has "classic" bona fides. There has been some addition, some subtraction and some reorganization, but its enduring highlights, from the moment Patina Renea Miller announces the dawning of the Age of Aquarius until the last strains of "Let the Sun Shine In," seem as fresh (and even more glorious) than ever. Indeed, my only frame of reference for comparing this production to the original is the cast recording, and overall, I think the singing is better here. The dozen musicians, onstage under a psychedelic awning, support the cast mightily.
If there is a star in this excellent cast, it is Will Swensen, whose infectious Berger is the nucleus around which the Tribe revolves. Jonathan Groff, whose endearing charm and marvelously voice carries far as Claude, can't win this battle, even though the show's story floats in his orbit. (Recent news is that, due to a prior commitment, Groff will leave the production before its two-week extension; Christopher Hanke, who distinguished himself in the largely undistinguished Cry Baby this past season, will be his replacement beginning August 17.) Both of the other principal men, Bryce Ryness as Woof, and Darius Nichols as Hud, are outstanding.
Back in the 60's, women were not in combat and it seems that, despite Hair's radical qualities, they were still largely playing second fiddle to the men. That said, the four main women, Caren Lyn Manuel as Sheila, Kacie Sheik as Jeanie, Allison Case as Crissy and Ms. Miller's Dionne, are legatees to a treasure trove of songs which they perform sensationally. Also terrific, and extremely funny, are Megan Lawrence's Mother and Andrew Kober's Margaret Mead (and Father).
In its day, Hair served as a wakeup call. Many would say we need it more now than then. There is talk of a Broadway transfer. Whether it materializes or not, you owe it to yourself to get a dose of this tonic in the great outdoors this summer.
Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Diane Paulus
Allison Case (Crissy), Lauren Elder, Jonathan Groff (Claude), Andrew Kober (Father/Margaret Mead), Megan Lawrence (Mother), Caren Lyn Manuel (Sheila), Patina Renea Miller (Dionne), Darius Nichols (Hud), Bryce Ryness (Woof), Kacie Sheik (Jeanie), Will Swenson (Berger); with Ato Blankson-Wood, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, Kaitlin Kiyan, Nicole Lewis, John Moauro, Brandon Pearson, Megan Reinking, Paris Remillard, Saycon Sengbloh, Maya Sharpe,Theo Stockman, and Tommar Wilson.
Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Michael Chybowski
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Psychedelic Art: The Joshua Light Show
Choreography: Karole Armitage
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including one intermission
A production of The Public Theater
Delacorte Theatre, Central Park (enter park @81st Street/CPW or 79th/5 Av.)
Telephone (212) 539-8750 Public Theater website: www.publictheater.org
Opening August 8, 2008, closes September 13, 2008 (a third extension)
Tues - Sun @8:00 (limited ticket distribution on 8/8 and 8/12); free, limit of 2 per person (ticket pickup at the Delacorte, also limited tickets online, no tickets at The Public. Tickets in all 5 boroughs on specified days -- see The Public Theater website for details on all options)
Reviewed by Les Gutman based
on 8/2/08 performance
Aquarius / Dionne and Tribe
Donna / Berger and Tribe
Hashish / Tribe
Sodomy / Woof and Tribe
Colored Spade / Hud and Tribe
Manchester, England / Claude and Tribe
I'm Black / Hud, Woof, Berger, Claude and Tribe
Ain't Got No / Woof, Hud, Dionne and Tribe
Sheila Franklin / Tribe
I Believe in Love / Sheila and Trio
Ain't Got No Grass / Tribe
Air / Jeanie, Crissy and Dionne
The Stone Age / Berger
I Got Life / Claude and Tribe
Initials / Tribe
Going Down / Berger and Tribe
Hair / Claude, Berger, and Tribe
My Conviction / Margaret Mead
Easy to Be Hard / Sheila
Don't Put It Down / Berger, Woof and Tribe Member Wilson
Frank Mills / Crissy
Hare Krishna / Tribe
Where Do I Go? / Claude and Tribe
Electric Blues / Tribe Members Burkhardt, Elder, Kober, Lawrence
Oh Great God of Power / Tribe
Black Boys / Tribe Members Burns, Kiyan, Nichols, Pearson, Reinking, Wilson
White Boys / Dionne and Tribe Members Lewis and Sengbloh
Walking in Space / Dionne, Sheila, Jeanie and Tribe
Minuet / Orchestra
Yes, I's Finished on Y'alls Farmland / Hud and Tribe Members Blankson-Wood, Pearson, Wilson
Four Score and Seven Years Ago & Abie Baby / Abraham Lincoln (Sengbloh) and Tribe Members Blankson-Wood, Nichols, Pearson, Wilson
Give up All Desires / Monks
Three-Five-Zero-Zero / Tribe
What a Piece of Work Is Man / Claude and Tribe Members Remillard and Sharpe
How Dare They Try / Tribe
Good Morning, Starshine / Sheila and Tribe
Ain't Got No / Claude
The Flesh Failures / Claude and Tribe
Eyes Look Your Last / Claude and Tribe
Let the Sun Shine In / Tribe
Hair returns to London’s West End
The draft is white people send black people to make war on yellow people to defend the land they stole from red people. — Hud
Will Swenson as Berger (Photo: Michael LePoer Trench)
I was of the generation that was aware of the big hit songs from Hair
but I never saw it in the theatre. In itself, the first London production of Hair
was the making of theatrical history because it opened in London on 27th September 1968, the day after an Act of Parliament had abolished the Lord Chamberlain’s role as theatrical censor. For the first time anything could be shown or said on the London stage. Hair
was the first production in the UK to feature full frontal nudity. It was the first musical with songs with explicit references to drugs and sex. It is still making history in 2010 when 42 years after its inception, it is the first occasion when the complete Broadway cast of a musical have come to the London stage. So London is getting what they really had in New York.
I wish I had seen it in the open air but of course the British weather can be a very unreliable factor with a soggy effect on high spirits. The opening number, the anthem to a new age of love and peace is magnificent. Sash Allen wasn’t playing Dionne that night but Phyre Hawkins stood in and was strong and pure of voice. In fact I cannot fault the New York cast all of whom have brilliant singing voices although a part of me asks why they have to be American and over here when we have so many musical performers looking for work.
What I did find uncomfortable was the involvement of the audience; for the main part of the show it wasn’t so much audience participation as audience molestation. In particular Will Swenson as Berger swinging his leather thronged crotch in his personal "dick fest" while standing astride some unsuspecting girl in the audience seemed to me more pantomime vulgarity than the gentleness of the laid back "Summer of Love". London audiences aren’t handed flowers but brightly coloured flyers inviting them to come to a demonstration. I think I’d have preferred a flower. An elderly critic said to me that a couple of stage members were putting on a passable imitation of spontaneous fornication in the aisle next to him while on stage there was an important development in the storyline. His point was that he didn’t know where to look. He meant of course whether he should concentrate on the developments onstage or in the aisle?
Of course, many in the audience love the proximity of the cast and at the end of the show there was an Olympic type sprint to be one of the 200 allowed up onstage to dance the finale out. Ushers with clickers counted them in to abide by the Healthy and Safety regulations.
The Gielgud Theatre is exceptionally hot with the installation of extra lighting rigs and an antiquated air cooling system so maybe some of the audience will feel the need to strip off. However at the end of the first act when the musical cast deliver complete nudity I was left asking why, what was the dramatic point of this in the story? I also wondered what had happened to the girl who was very pregnant whom I felt uncomfortable about in the scenes about drugs as we know the effect of narcotics on unborn babies. Maybe I’m taking this all a bit too seriously? It is musical theatre after all and this is the critic who loved Parade
the musical about a lynching.
I liked the comic concept of the anthropologist Margaret Mead (Andrew Kober), famous for her work on Samoa, studying this particular tribe because of course there are almost no undiscovered communities for anthropologists to write about today. I wanted to ask why women weren’t drafted in 1968.
The songs are the best part of the show as indeed they should be in a musical: wonderful pop songs, the rock upbeat numbers "Ain’t Got No" and "Hair" and evocative ballads like "Good Morning Starshine" and "Let the Sun Shine In" which you are guaranteed to be singing when you come out of the theatre.
Incidentally in London, the major male theatre critics, all old enough to have been sexually active in the 1960s were they not spending so much time in the dark, loved this production of "Hair". More critical reviews have come from women and younger critics.
Updated Production Notes:
Credits as per New York
Starring: Sasha Allen, Will Swenson, Luther Creek, Darius Nichols, Gavin Creel, Caissie Levy, Kacie Sheik, Allison Case, Megan Lawrence, Kevin
Kern, Andrew Kober, Phyre Hawkins
With: Steel Burkhardt, Lauren Elder, Ato Blankson-Wood, Matt DeAngelis, Anthony Hollock, Crystal Joy, Kaitlin Kiyan, John Moauro, Brandon Pearson, Michael James Scott, Maya Sharpe, Megan Reinking, Hannah Shankman, Gemma Baird, Oliver Eyre, Holly James, Katie Lavelli, Aki Omoshaybi, Patrick Smyth
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5130
Booking at the Gielgud Theatre to 8th January 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th April 2010 performance at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 7HD (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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