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.)
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.