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March 07, 2009

"Hair" - My Review

A friend of mine secured two excellent tickets to the first preview of the Broadway revival of “Hair” last night. Normally, when somebody asks if I want to go see a Broadway musical, my response is, “No thank you,” because most musicals are like model railroading: fun to do, not to watch. 

But I love a lot of the songs in “Hair,” and I thought there might be some nudity involved, so I quickly accepted the offer. (As an aside, it seems like any modern theatrical production has to have at least a little nudity these days to ensure success, the exception being Blithe Spirit, which stars Angela Lansbury.)

Hair

There is much to love about this new “Hair.” The cast is uniformly great. They are young and exuberant, and all the guys have stomachs that made me feel bad about myself. In fact, among other themes, this show seems primarily to be about a celebration of the male form. The women are attractive too, but it’s a lot more dude parts than lady parts, which I suppose is a wise decision when you consider who is attending most Broadway shows: old women, 'tween girls, gay men, and at least one transvestite who was there last night and making an annoying show of being all transvestited out. (Note to aforementioned transvestite: it’s not necessary to dress like Kim Cattrall for us get the idea. We get it.)

All in all, the cast are an infectious tribe, and you get the feeling that they are probably as friendly with each other offstage as on. In fact, at the end, when they are dancing onstage with members of the audience flashing the peace sign and saying “love… love… love,” you can almost believe they mean it. 

The music is also terrific, as I expected, and the sets are pleasingly colorful without ever descending into nauseating psychedelia. Even better the strobe light effect is thankfully kept to a restrained minimum, which is good because I suffer from grand mal seizures (not true, but I never pass up an opportunity to say “grand mal seizure.”)

So that’s the good. Here’s the bad:

“Hair” is fucking depressing. Not because (SPOILER ALERT EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN PRETTY MUCH FROM MOMENT ONE) the guy dies at the end, but because a show that is supposed to be about the hopefulness of youth and the possibility of change, ultimately ends up being about wasted youth and the status quo. Why? Because it is impossible to separate the show from its context: we know who all those hopeful young people grow up to be – assholes.

What should be a relevant musical about war, change, and optimism is instead a nearly total indictment of the Baby Boomer generation. These people who marched to stop The Vietnam War grew up to give us The Iraq War. The people who decried materialism grew up to give us hedge funds and sub-prime mortgages. These people who sought to change the world, did. For the worse. I left the show last night feeling so angry at all those self-indulgent long-haired hippies who tried to levitate the Pentagon, but instead sank the whole country.

As a result, I had the uncomfortable thought running over and over in my mind last night while watching the show: it’s too soon. Too soon to restage a forty year old museum piece about a bunch of hippies? Yes. I don’t want to be reminded of their sunny naivete, I don’t want to hear about the fucking Age of Aquarius. There was no Age of Aquarius. It didn’t happen. Ultimately “Hair” doesn’t work because we know the ending before it begins: everybody sells out. In fact the truest line in the show is when the doomed Claude says something to the effect of "I don't want to change the world. I just want a lot of money." Amen, brother. It's telling that the only time the truth is spoken in "Hair" is when the character speaking is tripping out of his mind.

Unfortunately, "Hair" teaches us that, despite all of their pretensions, Free Love was just about getting laid, that Dropping Out was just about getting high. That there never was a real counter-culture. It was just a bunch of spoiled kids who didn’t want to go to war. I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t want to go to war either. So what did they do about it? Ask the current crop of kids in Baghdad and Kabul.

If all of this sounds incredibly cynical, it is. But sometimes cynicism is deserved. It’s like that old line, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.” We were got.

I suspect “Hair” will be a big, rousing success this time around, as long as everybody just sits back and lets the sunshine in, which is what Broadway is, of course, all about. Sales of souvenir love beads will probably be pretty strong. But I left the theater feeling pretty pissed off at the world in general. Oddly, the people I ended up feeling the most sympathy for in the show were “the squares:” the parents and teachers and authority figures who “didn’t get it.” You know what? I didn’t get it either.

But the nudity was pretty hot. 

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Danielle

I follow you on twitter and thus when you sent the link out in a tweet I clicked and read. I like your insight and while it's heavy hearted it's a good perspective.


It is too soon.

Camille

A local guy is in that show. Six degrees of separation!I'm a little disappointed that you didn't capture some of that nudity with your cameraphonefaxscannercopierprintertwitter/facebook/myspace updater.

Scott

Pretty solid review, and even though I'm not directly affected by the US situation (only somewhat, as I'm in Canada - also for the fact that I don't follow politics) I felt that you did a preeety good job of placing this in the current time.

You also did a preeety good job of making never want to be within viewing distance of this play (except for the nudity parts).

sherisaid

For the record, I don't follow you simply because you are funny or because you are on tv. I follow you because you are brilliant, insightful and a really good writer. I also like that you're not so full of yourself that you don't respond to people who aren't famous. Like Brent Spiner. Now he pisses me off.

All fangurl issues aside, this is 100% spot-on. Excellent read. sherry

Reptar

Wow. A generational indictment! You really do get something new every time you read this blog. One day it's unicorns, the next, the opposite of what Tom Brokaw does.

Reen

So you didn't turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, I see. That brain is always going, going, going. You're suppose to: Sssshhhhhhhhhhh.


This blog was so relevant it's unnerving.

Rob

Good review. I'm sure I would have felt a similar pang listening about free love and counter culture in the most elitist of forums (what was the price printed on your ticket?).

MrFurious

Spot on, Mikey. I found the word Change itself plastered all over the country in the last election particularly sardonic. Ever consider joining the Libertarian party? :-)

Andrew Thomson

Micheal, this review is amusing and I am sympathetic to your post boomer resentment, but the 60's and 70's were not a mythical time where an entire generation rebelled and protested the war etc. as one, nor is today a cartoon of a society of sellouts who universally supported the Iraq war and created the mortgage crisis. Remember that most of the architects of the Iraq war were more of Cheney's generation. Also remember that while millions protested the war in Vietnam, millions of others supported it and were not part of the "Hair" movement.
Similarly before the Iraq war, millions of all generations protested it, the majority of Americans did not support it, and many of those who marched against the Vietnam war also marched against the Iraq war, millions world wide.

By your logic the boomers were all innocent opponents of the Vietnam war, who all became guilty supporters of the Iraq war... is it possible you are oversimplifying and buying into the VH1 style stereotyping of an era that is your bread and butter?
Written with love, Andrew

Andrew Thomson

One more point,

the "squares" you sympathized with in Hair were the ones who supported the Vietnam war, and grew up to later create and support the Iraq war.

The opponents of Vietnam were not the entire society as VH1 and their oversimplifying tv history ilk would have us believe, they were the counterculture, which means they were in opposition to the primary culture.

Similarly today, society is not a generic mass of Iraq war supporters and Sub Prime Bankers... those people are in the minority of wealthy and powerful elites, the same ones opposed by the Hair folks, and the same ones opposed by most of those same hair folks today, even if they may have short hair or no hair by now.


AmbroseKalifornia

Seriously, (and I am well aware that this is not the place for it) that's the reason I hate sex and men and drugs and happiness so much.

All those fucking, fucking hippie lies.

mr

tight calls, brother.

brian

omg best thing written in a year

Craig Conley

An exceptionally excellent and insightful critique!

Jessica

Very eloquently written, but I won't be seeing "Hair" anytime soon as I loathe two key components of said musical: crap from the sixties and the sight of naked men.

Joel Yeomans

Colour me impressed by the rare semi-serious article. (Apologies for the Canadian spelling...)

Jaime

"because most musicals are like model railroading: fun to do, not to watch."

Aw, you think model railroading is fun to do. Square.

Jaime

:) Really interesting and insightful, and though I totally get where you are coming from Andrew, and I can see how the review might feel as if it is whitewashing generations, it does still seem to ring true.

Because, though the counter-culture of the 60's may not have been fully supported by all, the majority of the youth of that generation were buying into it. And, supporters of the Vietnam War were the older generation, not the younger, but even by the end of the Vietnam conflict, there was only a 26% approval rate overall. So, young or old, few were behind it. So, I think Michael's being pretty fair on that characterization. Therefore, given that, one can't help but agree that the message of the 60's feels slightly more than inauthentic. Compelling. Thanks.

chris

Love beads are fun if you buy the appropriate size.

Ashley

So um...I kinda feel weird leaving this comment on your blog, but I figure you *might* appreciate and see the humor in the dream I had last night. Plus, you've disabled messages on Twitter, or I would have commented on the "birthday" stuff you mentioned.

Anyway, today is my birthday, and last night when I fell asleep I dreamed that I ran into you in public. No idea where we were. But, I debated with my husband if I should approach you and he said of course I should! (By the way, we're big ole' fans for sure!)

Me: Holy shit!!! Look who it is?!
Andy (my husband): Oh wow, Michael!
Me: Should I go say hi?
Andy: Of course!
Me: OK ::squeal::
Andy (calling to me as I'm walking towards you): Don't forget to tell him it's your birthday!!!

Me (to you): HI! My name is Ashley and I'm so excited to meet you and it's my birthday, so will you spank me?
You: Sure!

And then you can guess what happened after that...I'm really not sure what else to say about this, but it was a good dream. And now you've got a creepy message from a fan in Alabama...wow, can't get much better than that, can it?

Oh, and while I'm here...if you are ever in the South, my husband and I own a record store and would love to host an evening with you! You'd certainly pull a huge crowd (but you know that already). I guess this part should go to your rep Ted, but just thought I'd let you know there's always a spot for ya here in North Alabama. And spanking can be worked in the contract, if need be. ;)

Felicia

Thanks for your thoughtful take on the show. I never seem to get to Broadway without a child in tow, so it probably wouldn't be on my short list (although my mom took me to see the movie and I am pretty sure she had no idea there was any nudity or drugs, as that wasn't her 60s experience). I probably would leave the theater singing the tunes, then come to the same conclusion as yourself a few days later, or on the train home. And be pissed off that I spent $200 a ticket on that shit.

Red

I have always wondered why the gods of Broadway think there is such a lack of good material that they'd insist on revivals so soon after a show is dead. With the one exception of "Chess"--which needs to be revived over and over because I love that eighties rock opera mess--shows should at least have a sixty or seventy year break before making a "comeback"...the "Hair" revival seems forced and trite, whereas "Spring Awakening" seemed prophetic and insightful.
Then again, don't listen to me..."One Night in Bangkok" is one of my favorite second act openers. I mean, you're there ONE NIGHT, and the world's your oyster?? THIS IS PROVOKING SHIT, PEOPLE.

Snotty McSnotterson

I can only imagine what your review on 'Urinetown' would be. I've never been to your site before (found you through Rob Cordry on Twitter) and it defies description. But allow me to describe it anyways: hysterical.

Erin

Dude that probably was Kim Cattrall

reeky

hippies/boomers = drugs, money, humvees, sellouts, hypocrites

thankfully I missed the boomer boat by a few years (just missed). I fell into the world of the artists/punks, which is a whole other breed

M.I.B. = truth

did you need your ego stroked today?
great reading, thanks.

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