“Hair” – ASU Gammage
This review aired on KBAQ December 9, 2010
GLITZY NEW “HAIR” AT ASU GAMMAGE IS NOW A MUSEUM PIECE
Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Step back to 1967. There’s a highly contested war, draft dodging is the thing, the drug culture is establishing a strong presence, and hippies are a new phenomenon. Times and events are changing. “Hair” also debuted introducing new ideas, sounds, and concepts to the then sedate and past looking American musical theater.
Flash forward to last year and a major New York revival of “Hair” that moved from a successful Central Park beginning to Broadway and is touring the country in a production playing this week at ASU Gammage.
Reviews said “Hair” was born anew as contemporary times were linked with the musical’s original period. But that’s where things go a bit amiss. The glitzy new Diane Paulus production puts a jazzy, carefully staged, and energetic production in place. The touring cast is up to the show’s musical demands but that’s where comparisons end.
During the first act, you never feel these performers are from the ‘60s. They give the period the right sound, look, and feel, but they don’t have that same irascible energy, throw-caution-to-the-wind countenance, and the necessary drug induced other worldly feel. These are modern actors with long hair and shaggy clothes. They look right but they are always playing in a museum piece, as an affectionate and accurate ‘60s reflection.
By the second act, the talented ensemble gets closer to this period feeling. It’s like they séanced the ‘60s during the intermission and finally arrive at the time and into the characters.
The Gerome Ragni and James Rado book creates the right ‘60s picture but today, “Hair” plays more like a picture of the past rather than as something relevant and now. Galt MacDermot’s score is full to overflowing with now familiar song hits that also do a great job of capturing the period. While the songs entertain and the dances that go with them suggest the era’s carefree spirit, there’s almost too much music. Most significantly, contemporary times, while similar, are not the same. Different forces and ideas are at play as we shift and change to new directions. Politics actually seems less tolerant of ‘60s abandon and is focused on building a more complex future world, a world that will never have the carefree attitude of that now long ago era.
There’s nothing wrong with the production. The performers do their best even though they don’t always succeed in capturing the period’s time and feel that many of us grew up with. The staging doesn’t boast stars; instead these are strong singers who follow Paulus’ briskly exuberant staging and vigorous dances to present a nice museum look at the past.
The touring “Hair” production continues through Sunday, December 12. For tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-3434 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.