What a treat for all us old Hair-y guys to be invited to the opening of the Broadway revival finally arrived here at the Pantages, but what a bizarre feeling to realize it was 43 years ago that I first stepped on a stage telling people about the dawning of the age of Aquarius and dropping my drawers for horrified tourists from Des Moines.
It was also fascinating that I remembered every amazing Galt McDermot harmony, every “Gliddy-glad-gloopy,” every sequence of words of things I “Ain’t Got No” of—all of which I found myself singing not-so silently from my lonely aisle seat along with the current cast, most of whom could be my grandkids.
Over the years, I’ve been invited to many Hair revivals and always thought most of them appeared horribly dated and surely missed the point. Unlike four decades ago, when we all first got naked to show the folks how important it was to get what we were trying to say—about freedom, about tolerance, about the enormous obscenity of war—in subsequent productions, it seemed to become more about showing off how pumped gym bodies could be. The same is true with the show’s message, with performers poking fun at the outrageous hippies rather than embracing their courage and grit.
This Broadway revival gets it. Bigtime. Under the masterful direction of Diane Paulus and featuring wonderfully energetic choreography by Karole Armitage, this is again finally a Hair for the ages, one that honors what the show’s creators, my old friends and former costars James Rado and the late Gerome Ragni, wanted to communicate. With enormous help from Michael MacDonald’s brilliant costuming, Scott Pask’s versatile set that makes the cavernous Pantages stage somehow intimate, and Kevin Adams perfect lighting plot, it’s no wonder this mounting received a Tony last year for Best Musical.
I have also thought Hair was always, well, somewhat actor-proof, but here the performances by most of the major characters go beyond being just good. Steel Burkhardt instantly evokes Jerry’s Berger, as though channeling him though the ages, and Paris Remillard’s delivers the best performance of all to the Pantages stage as the clearly conflicted—and sadly doomed—British wannabe Claude. Matt DeAngelis is an endearingly silly and infectious Woof, Darius Nichols provides just the right amount of brooding and charm as Hud, and Kacie Sheik may be one of the best Jeanies ever.
Josh Lamon stops the show as Margaret Mead, as does Caren Lyn Tackett with a dynamic Emylou Harris-like rendition of the haunting balled “Easy To Be Hard.” From the uniformly spirited ensemble, Marshal Kennedy Carolan, so memorable as Sky in the long running Mamma Mia! at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas, is again a major standout, especially harmonizing in the goosebump inducing “What a Piece of Work is Man” with Remillard and the sweet-voiced Cailan Rose.
But if anything makes this Hair work as memorably as it did way back then and always will be, it is the incredible score by Galt McDermot, who seems to have enhanced his stellar orchestrations even more intricately over the years. How many times have you heard someone say they enjoyed a musical but none of the songs stuck with them past the lobby after the show? Well, folks, try: “Good Morning, Starshine,” “Aquarius,” “I Got Life,” “Hair,” Walking in Space,” “Let the Sunshine In.” The music of the American modern musical theatre doesn’t get much better than this.
One interesting story: as one castmember whom I’d been introduced to before the show came down the aisle passing out live daisies for the “Be In” scene near the end of the first act, seeing me she handed me a whole handful of the flowers. I immediately and almost automatically put them in my hair behind my ear and kinda forgot they were there, then at intermission realized why all the business-suited men my age were glaring at me disdainfully. Still they stayed there, those damned little daisies once stuffed down barrels of national guardsmen.
It’s a true testament to the enduring and unavoidable power of Hair, however, that after the final scene, after the indelible image of Claude stretched out on the flag brought tears to my old eyes yet again and after the audience was subsequently invited onstage to dance after the final call just as they were in 1968—where sometimes we stayed ‘til dawn—as we exited the Pantages, I again passed some of the same stuffy suited men. Almost to the man they smiled at me from ear to ear.
When I appeared in my first revival of Hair in 1985, I was asked in a newspaper interview what the main difference was between playing terminal flower urchin Woof in 1968 at age 22 and then again at age 39. I said that it was easier to get up off of the stage from a prone position the first time. In 2011, it was an effort to get out of my theatre seat. And although I guested as Margaret Mead in another Hair revival here at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood in 2001, produced and directed by another original Tribesmen, David James, I am still waiting for the 50th anniversary production in 2018 to party the heartiest. I’m collecting peace sign decals to place on my walker as we speak.
Hair plays through Jan. 23 at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; for tickets, call 800.982.ARTS or log on at www.BroadwayLA.org