April 1 (Bloomberg) — There was nothing like “Hair” when it opened on Broadway in April 1968, and there’s nothing like the revival that opened last night at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
“Hair” was then and is now the most exciting new show in town, not so much a breath of spring air as a jolt of adrenaline.
If you’re looking for nostalgia, fresh revivals of “Guys and Dolls” and “West Side Story” will fill the order. “Hair,” for all its references to hippies, Vietnam, free love and the revolution, feels utterly of the moment in its exuberance, its power to involve and, in Diane Paulus’s entrancing production, to move us.
The ragtag, shaggy-dog story centers on a band of hippies led by Berger, the proto-revolutionary expelled from high school; Woof, the Mick Jagger-worshipper coming (out) of age; and, especially, Claude, the gentlest among them, who can’t bring himself to burn his draft card.
However unlikely, the score by Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot produced as many popular hits as a Gershwin or Porter show: “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Frank Mills,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Hare Krishna” and, of course, “Let the Sun Shine In.”
In New York’s Central Park, where this revival was first presented two summers ago, it seemed perfect. But the move to a proscenium stage has concentrated the effect. I found myself more aware of how carefully plotted this show is, beginning in circus-like chaos but building to its unforgettable denouement. Joseph Papp, who stubbornly chose “Hair” to inaugurate the Public Theater in 1967, would have approved.
The immensely engaging cast, which has changed only a bit in the move, is headed by the rambunctious Will Swenson (Berger), the lovable Bryce Ryness (Woof) and the achingly undecided Gavin Creel (Claude). Caissie Levy turns Sheila’s “Easy to Be Hard” into a powerful anthem. Allison Case delivers Crissy’s lovesick ballad, “Frank Mills,” with delicate poignancy.
In addition to Paulus’s accomplished staging, this triumph owes much to Karole Armitage’s organic, Fosse-like choreography and the trippy designs of Scott Pask (scenery), Michael McDonald (costumes) and Kevin Adams (lighting).
Most important, Nadia Digiallonardo’s nonpareil musical direction reveals every strength of Broadway’s first — maybe only — great rock ‘n’ roll score. Hearing “Let the Sun Shine In” build in choral power during a final scene as searing as that of “West Side Story” is to understand how much more than a lark “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” was, and remains.