'Hair': Hippies in the Age of Millennials?

BOOK AND LYRICS BY JAMES RADO AND GEROME RAGNIHAIR
Photo provided by Keegan Theatre
BOOK AND LYRICS BY JAMES RADO AND GEROME RAGNIHAIR

As I settled into my top of the back seat at the Keegan Theatre, looking at the gathered members of the tribe as they lolled on a couch, did practice runs on a rope, hugged or high-fived in vests and bluejeans and with various tropes of hair—Afros big and small, long-to-the midriff female, long to the midriff male—I got a sinking feeling.

Maybe this was truly and finally the beginning of the end of the Age of Aquarius. After all, it’s a long way—way more than 40 years from the Age of the Hippies to the Age of the Millennials and all the generations in between. Watching the opening moments of the Keegan Theatre’s high-energy production of “Hair” seemed at the beginning to be a little oppressive, as if my peace-and-love generation genes had curdled like month-old milk.

I suspect that how an audience member reacts to this production—or any production—of “Hair” depends more and more as time goes by to the time gone by. I saw my first production of “Hair” in 1972 in San Francisco, which is ground zero for the play’s setting at the height of the anti-war, free love and peace explosion. I saw it again years later at the Studio’s intimate 2nd Stage setting where I remember a middle-aged man explaining things to his daughter at intermission. I saw it again more recently, when a revival’s national tour, zippy as all get-out with kilo-watt charisma stars hit the Kennedy Center.

I suspect this production looks different to today’s young people who may think they’ve seen and done everything, at least on their phones. This generation, which seems less addled by issues of racial differences and totally not shocked by anything to do with drugs, sex or rock-and-roll, might wonder what all the fuss was about.

I wondered a little as well, until the show and its performers hit their stride. This was and remains a rowdy, one-of-a-kinder and with the rank of first semi-rock-and-roll musical that calmly, sweetly proposes ideas that there are no boundaries in matters of sex in such songs as “Hashish,” “Sodomy” and the spunky “Black Boys (White Boys) Are Delicious,” the celebratory “Hair” and “Ain’t Go No (Grass).” True, there’s nudity, and it looks like a modest lineup of good-looking young men and women briefly spied or seen with no harm and some good done.

This play—it’s a long haul at two-and-a-half hours—is meant to work like a be-in, a celebration, but its heart is in the bitter cloud of the Viet Nam War and the adrenalin-rush discovery of drug, sex and rock-and-roll. Thus: Berger, a charismatic, defiant rogue who still operates at an ironic distance, the hapless, hopeful and hopeless Claude, the passionate Sheila in a triangle, where no one quite connects.

Keegan has taken some risks with this and enlarged its ambition, too, with 30 or more performers on stage in an example of “Occupy Keegan,” and it doesn’t stint in energy and ability. What’s evident in this production is that this tribe lives its beliefs as best as it can. It’s a gutsy explosion into an all-out embrace of not just tolerating the other, but of moving in with him or her at an intimate level.

This "Hair" is also often choreographed with great precision to within an inch of its life—the kind of movement theater that barely resembles the sloppiness and disorganization of a hippie gathering.

Hats off here to: Christian Montgomery as the sweet-natured Woof; Paul Kanlan as the struggling Claude, stuck between the world he knows and the world he loves and unable to avoid making a tough decision; the high-end charisma of Josh Sticklin as Berger and Caroline Wolfson as a sexy, appealing real-life woman as opposed to type.

There’s some 40 songs: numbers or even short-lived snippets that burst out or erupt in this show. Most of them aim directly for the heart, others a lot lower, and some of them at the area of persona that’s ticked off about the way things are, where they’re heading or for that matter where they’ve been. Like a lot of idealistic, half-formed and not fully realized dreams, the tribe bleeds and grieves—but always jumps and fondles and sings and cries out.

The show itself could do with a little trimming, most especially the long historical-political little play-acting on American history themes. It is and comes off as too obvious, too polemic and a potential show stopper.

But, yeah, let the sun shine in—by all means necessary.

The remaining performances of HAIR are SOLD OUT.

If you would like to waitlist for tickets, please email boxoffice@keegantheatre.com

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Sat, 30 Aug 2014 14:14:27 -0400

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