By admin on Apr 1, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
It seems that with spring, it's truly time to "let the sun shine in." Diane Paulus' revival of Hair, seen last summer at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, burst onto Broadway last night at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, and much like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, the production teems with vibrancy and heart so genuine that it seems almost to have been minted during the turbulent days of war protests and be-ins.
Theatergoers, of course, walk into Hair knowing vast portions, if not all, of the score from Galt MacDermot (music) and Gerome Ragni and James Rado (lyrics and book). Songs like "Aquarius," "Let the Sun Shine In" and "Good Morning Starshine" are standards of the era and part of our cultural consciousness. As with the production in the park last August, these tunes, and the host of others, which range from caustic topical riffs to full-out ballads, are impeccably delivered by the company. There are standouts, naturally, with some of the show's bigger tunes. Sasha Allen rips into the show's opening number ("Aquarius") with electrifying intensity, Allison Case finds the right balance of quirky silliness and misty heartbreak in "Frank Mills" and Darius Nichols delivers "Colored Spade" with irony that's filled with genuine rage.
What theatergoers are probably less familiar with is Ragni and Rado's sprawling book, which hangs loosely on a whether or not Claude (Gavin Creel) will allow himself to be drafted. Claude spends a lot of time hanging out with his friends in the park. They're folks who have no problem burning their draft cards (the first act finale), but Claude still somehow feels pulled by his middle class upbringing (seen in flashbacks where Megan Lawrence and Andrew Kober play his wonderful cartoon incarnations of his parents).
Claude's fate, ultimately, delivers an almost overwhelming blow to theatergoers during the final moments of Hair thanks to Paulus' immaculate, and sometimes nearly infinitesimal, tweaks to her staging from just under a year ago. Not only are audiences able to understand and feel the ways in which the character is being torn by both his upbringing and his conscience, but also his innate sensitivity. Creel beautifully communicates Claude's need for connection, but inability to achieve it; the young man's fascination with the iconoclastic Berger (once again played with winning devil-may-care sensuality by Will Swenson) borders on homoerotic, even when coupled with his fascination for Berger's sometimes partner, the trust-fund protester Sheila (deftly rendered by Caissie Levy). Claude's involvement in this triangle contrasts marvelously with his coolness toward Jeanie (the goofily charming Kacie Sheik), who dotes incessantly on him.
Not only is Claude's story meticulously brought to life, so too, is the period. An anger and a sense of defiance that was keenly missed during the show's run last summer now pulsates underneath performances, so too, does a grand playfulness, which spills out into the audience, as cast members cavort throughout the house. Karole Armitage's choreography – which had been a bit too synchronized – now bursts with individuality, sexiness and an exuberant lust for living in the moment.
Paulus and Armitage's revisions to the staging have not come at a price to the elements that were successful last summer. It's particularly satisfying to see that the boisterous hallucinogenic vaudeville of American history that comes during the second act continues to both amuse and chill.
Scenic designer Scott Pask no longer has the backdrop of Central Park for the production, but that doesn't matter, he turns the theater itself into the tribe's playground. The back wall of the stage – including a massive bank of radiators glows with a painted sunrise that's dotted with stars. He houses the band in bits of scaffolding and an old truck. In his lighting design, Kevin Adams manages to make it seem as though bright sunlight is streaming onto the stage even as he infuses the production with a concert-like feel and trippy weirdness; it's a terrific trifecta, and one that's incredibly apt because Hair, is not only a recreation of an outdoor celebration, it's also a songbook of some of the best rock songs written for the musical theater. Additionally, the show's a loopy theatrical ride from 40 years ago, that's feeling bright and fresh right now, almost as if to let spring in on Broadway.
---- Andy Propst
Hair plays at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (302 West 45th Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2 and 8pm; and Sunday at 2 and 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting www.Telecharge.com. Further information is available online at www.HairBroadway.com.
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