If any musical is a precursor to the rock opera, it's 1967's very own Hair. I saw elements of Rent, Godspell, and Jesus Christ Superstar, among others, embedded within the music, choreography, and even the costumes. This show is great fun but with serious things to say. Written and set in the late sixties, Hair speaks to many of the hot button issues of the time: the emergence of the hippie culture, freedom of sexuality, the generational gap between young adults and their parents, the prevelance of androgynous young men growing their hair long, and most importantly, the Vietnam War. Yet, the messages are still more than relevant today.
Act One opens with the show's most famous tune, "Age of Aquarius," then takes the audience through a sort of roll call of the characters, who address and speak to (and sometimes dance with) the audience. We learn about the male characters' rage and fear over being drafted and watch them scheme and worry over getting out of it. But the upbeat songs and energetic people moving around onstage allow you to put the misery on the backburner for awhile and enjoy celebrating "Peace! Flowers! Freedom! Happiness!" with the colorful members of the fringe culture.
I found that I liked the cast even before I saw them, reading through their bios in my program. Nobody had boastful lists of regional or touring credits, but rather tidbit philosophies on life (on karma, Zen, art), shout outs to family and friends, and -- a cute touch -- their astrological signs. This cast was young, enthusiastic, and a very strong ensemble. And brave. I've never once gone to the theatre and seen any actor, let alone an entire cast, stand unabashedly nude before the audience. If you happen to get bored with all the peace and love, just hang on, because that'll wake you right up.
Some of my favorite aspects of the show included three white girls singing about how much they love "Black Boys" followed by three black girls singing about how much they love "White Boys," the prayer of "Sodomy" (and cunnilingus, and fellatio, and masturbation...), the beautiful, shirtless hippie men (abs!), and Claude's profound defense to his parents of his opposition to the war, "I Got Life."
Obviously, the anti-war sentiments still ring true, but the part of the show where I really got chills, thinking of all the bullying and suicides that have taken place among the young gay community, was when a cast member dressed as an older woman (the embodiment of the conservative generation) turned to the audience and said, "I wish every mother and father in this theatre would go home tonight and tell their kids: 'BE FREE. Be whoever you are, and do whatever you want to do.'" Adding, "As long as you don't hurt anybody." As messages go, this is about as clear as it can get.
I've known the music of Hair for years, but this was the first time I actually saw the show. It was wonderful to finally put a story and characters to the songs I love so much, and it was everything I'd imagined it would be. A celebration of being alive, of friends, of music, of freedom, of LOVE LOVE LOVE! However, it wasn't all flower-power optimism; by the end you will be left with a haunting reminder of the consequences of war. Not to fret, though. The cast continues the celebration by bouncing back up onstage for curtain call and a "Let the Sun Shine In" dance party with the audience, half of whom joined the cast onstage to dance and sing, some running down the aisles for their chance, some being somewhat reluctantly lead by hippie cast members. And good fun was had by all!
I wish I would have been around for the original Hair production, just to see what 21st-century changes had been made. Whether it's a direct reitterance of the 1967 production, I can't say, although I doubt that it is. No matter what, though, I can safely say that this revival stays faithful to the ideas and convictions of the sixties original and perpetuates them in a way we can relate to. I think everyone should go see it. I walked in with a question mark over my head in regards to what I was about to witness, and I walked out with flowers in my hair, an invitation to a Human Be-In ("Bring Your Own Pot!"), and "Let the Sun Shine In" thrumming through my head. The Hair revival is here until March 20th at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre, so don't miss out on the peace, love, and astounding cultural significance.