Remember the days when Broadway musicals spawned pop hits instead of the other way around?
Back in 1967, “Hair” was one of the first “rock musicals,” but it was also one of the last Broadway musicals to send a handful of its songs up the pop charts. The Fifth Dimension tackled a medley of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In,” and turned it into a No. 1 smash hit and Grammy Award-winning Record of the Year. The Cowsills’ somewhat abridged rendition of the musical’s title song shot up to No. 2 on the pop charts in 1969. And that same year, the mono-monikered Oliver landed a No. 3 hit with “Good Morning Starshine,” while Three Dog Night scored their big breakthrough No. 4 hit with the ballad “Easy to Be Hard.”
And it’s a damn good thing that there are a batch of hit songs in “Hair” because the current touring production – which opened its six-day run at Proctors in Schenectady on Tuesday night – has virtually no plot or storyline at all. It’s basically just one song after another – a concert production with a few lines of dialogue thrown in here and there just to give the singer-dancers a moment to catch their collective breath.
Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Karole Armitage have indeed concocted a high energy romp. The first act especially flies by at such a pace that you’d swear that the cast had to be cranked up on speed – certainly not the mellowed-out, pot-smoking stoners typically portrayed as the flower-power hippies of 1967.
And it’s a vibrant, color-saturated production, too, with enough of a visual punch to match the relentless energy that pours – quite literally – off the stage at every available opportunity. Costume designer Michael McDonald has assembled a rainbow-hued collection of headbands, lovebeads, patched jeans and lots and lots of fringe that swayed with every tribal dance step.
The singing is solid throughout – especially the soulful Phyre Hawkins as Dionne, who opens the show with a fire-blasted rendition of “Aquarius” and leads the inter-racial rebuttal “White Boys” in the second act.
But what was bold and ground-breaking back when “Hair” first hit the Great White Way – songs about drugs (“Hashish”), sex (“Sodomy”) and race (“Colored Spade”) – are certainly no longer shocking, and the current production takes on a cartoonish patina, playing it all for laughs and downplaying the anger and sense of outrage concerning the war.
In fact, the two brightest highlights of the show are comic vaudevillian routines by scene-stealers Josh Lamon (as Margaret Mead) with “My Conviction” and Allison Guinn (as Buddhadalirama) with “Give Up All Desires.”
As dated as “Hair” is, this production isn’t really about baby-boomer nostalgia at all. It seems aimed directly at a younger generation who wish they’d been there the first time around.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union