With the current version of Vietnam raging in the form of the invasion of Iraq and the country finally coming out of the nightmare that was eight-years of old establishment rule, the Broadway musical HAIR was ripe for a proper revival.
A feel good and fun-filled night out, HAIR is an absolute must see! Exuberant, wild, hilarious, poignant, energetic, and moving, HAIR is as relevant today as it was when it first opened at the Public in 1967. It is a joyous and timeless celebration of youth and a thought-provoking commentary on the human costs of war.
I was lucky enough to see the 40th anniversary staged concert of HAIR at the Central Park Delacorte in September of 2007 and fell completely in love with the cast and the production. Although I always loved the score (“Good Morning, Starshine” and “Aquarius” were two of my favorite songs when I was little), my only previous experience with HAIR was the terrible 1979 Milos Forman film adaptation, which completely and inexplicably changed the play’s storyline beyond recognition rendering it less effective in every area. After the performance, I was also fortunate enough to meet the cast and James Rado, one of the creators of the show. I knew then that they were destined for Broadway, as the show was just so timely and amazing!
A year and a half later, I am delighted to say that the transfer of HAIR from the park back to the Broadway stage is a raging success! The play is even more intimate in the confines of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. From my seat, I felt like I was right there on stage with the cast and a welcomed member of “the Tribe”. (Of course, it helped that I wore my best hippie outfit to the show.) Sasha Allen (Dionne) gave me goosebumps as her voice gloriously rang out across the theatre opening the show with the refrains of “Aquarius”. She’s so beautiful and talented that I can honestly say that she is one of the few women that I would love to be rather than myself! Will Swenson as “Berger”, the leader of the Tribe, is fantastic and a hot piece of blessed manhood! With his amazing body and beautiful long Black locks, I just couldn’t take my eyes off of him! It is really wonderful to see the early rise of his ascending stardom. My own complaint was both times – at the park and during this performance – he was the only one not to give us the grand reveal during the nude scene! At the park, he kept his codpiece on and this time he hid behind his leading lady and then covered up with his hand when he ran off stage. This modesty rings false for his character who is supposedly all about Free Love and practically sleeping with everyone in the cast! Come on Will! Give the audience a thrill already! The rest of your cast members do!
Other standouts in the cast include Darius Nichols, who played “Hud” and utters one of the most hilarious lines of the night, “People get ready there’s a train a coming!” during a group sex scene and Jim Carrey lookalike Gavin Creel makes a poignantly convincing “Claude”. Byrce Ryness is fun as the sexually conflicted “Woof” and Kacie Sheik is wonderful, making her Broadway debut, as the pregnant “Jeanie”. Megan Lawrence and Andrew Kober are comedic marvels portraying dual roles as Claude’s mom and a yogi and Claude’s Dad and a honeymooning “Margaret Mead,” respectively. The only disappointment in casting was Caissie Levy, as the current “Sheila”, who was a bit bland and not as vocally strong as her predecessor. I preferred the lovely Caryn Lyn-Manuel, who brought more fire to the character in the park. As Sheila’s character delivers some of the better-known songs, particularly the heart wrenching “Easy to be Hard”, it is a glaring shortfall in an otherwise excellent cast. The love and easy affection on display between the cast members is infectious. As I can’t imagine being a part of something this sexually open and spiritually fulfilling and not falling in Love with someone, I began to ponder which cast members have taken their onstage relationships offstage!
My best friend Claudia, who accompanied me to the show, was an actual hippie in the ‘60s but strangely had never seen the play. We shared a particular laugh over the “Black Boys/White Boys” number as she is Italian and almost exclusively dates Black guys (although she did say she would give Will a go) and I am the opposite. It was as if that number was written for us! We both wept like babies at the moving finale. When the audience was invited on stage for a dance during the curtain call, I went up and boogied on down; but Claudia was still composing herself. Afterwards, she told me since she had actually been at some of the anti-war protests that the play references and had friends have to escape to Canada to avoid the draft that it had all been very emotional for her. She also conveyed that it had taken her back very realistically to her youth. (As a former rock Band Aid, the film “Almost Famous” always does that for me!) After the show, I was moved when Claudia showed me the peace sign that she used to wear and has kept for 40 years!
To come down and around after the rousting HAIR, we went to Da Marino, my favorite after theatre spot for a cocktail or three. We spotted Chris Noth, who was having dinner at a nearby table with the owner and some friends. With Chris and Claudia in the house, it became a surreal case of the real guy who plays the fictional hot character, “Mr. Big” vs. the marvelous human embodiment of the fictional character “Samantha “ ! Chris later exuberantly blurted out “where are all the loose women in this place?” To which Claudia at her Mae West witty best, quipped “I’m not loose! I’m just expressive!” I laughed until I cried! Four cocktails later, we headed home still more intoxicated from the wonderful HAIR then the drinks we consumed.
In the spirit of Love and recession, a lottery for $25 “Be-In” box seats is held every performance day. I am definitely going again before the run ends!
The Opening Night Party for HAIR was held a few days after I saw the play at the lovely Gotham Hall. The menu was an odd mix ranging from the superb to the mediocre as a delicious beef stroganoff was coupled with pigs in a blanket! In addition, the staff needs to be re-trained as one waitress rudely refused to allow people to serve themselves. But with a full open bar one could not really complain.
Received a warm welcome from James Rado, HAIR’s creator. I was on the full hunt for Will Swenson (Berger) as I wanted to query him as to when I could see the full monty but he was hidden somewhere within the building. Met hottie cast member, Steel Burkhardt, who is almost a dead ringer for Will was in attendance with his brother and sister, who have equally strange names. Also, spent some time chatting with cast members Paris Remmillard , Megan Lawrence, and Sasha Allen. Was disappointed to find that my theory was wrong and that none of the cast members have yet hooked up as most of them had significant others before beginning the show. However, they did reveal that there have been some crushes and near hookups! And it gave a gal hope to hear that Will has a hottie Black chick as a girlfriend that he is really diggin’!
With Gotham closing, I was invited to join the cast for another cocktail uptown. At the bar we encountered, this weird rabbi dude named “Samuel” who said he was from Israel and kept saying that “God loves you” and “anything for you” over and over again making me feel like I had actually dropped acid. Tripped the night fantastic until 5am so paid dearly the next day! But a wonderful night was had so the next morning’s hangover was well worth it!