Hair at the Orpheum

March 1, 2011
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Hair, produced by the Hennepin Theater Trust at the Orpheum. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I was an earnest schoolboy in a small southern Minnesota town when Hair (at the Orpheum, through March 6, produced by the Hennepin Theater Trust) first came out.  It blew me away.  I never saw the actual show, of course; I only had the cast album.  Still, lyrics like “this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius” seemed a realistic portrayal of a brave new world being constructed in faraway and exotic New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles.  There was genuine sexual discovery in super-charged songs like “Black Boy/White Boy.”  There were no drugs where I lived, so most of my information came from stoner ditties like “Hashish.”  Most significantly, the war in Viet Nam raged endlessly and there was passionate urgency in the anti-war sensibility pervading this play.

I believed.

A few years have passed (I don’t like to think how many) and Hair is receiving an excellent revival.  Produced by the Public Theater in New York, the play moved to Broadway for a nice run.  Now a touring version has arrived in Minneapolis for a quick one week run at the Orpheum.  What seemed in the 60s a harbinger of great change has been revealed as a sweet fantasy.  Still, the fantasy has power and the great “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” (as it’s humbly sub-titled) can still pack the baby-boomers in – even at 88 bucks a seat.

For one major reason: this show’s music really holds up.  Composed by Galt MacDermot with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Hair‘s songs soar.  None are deep – there isn’t enough of a developed story for this – but they do work, tune after tuneful tune.  Many have become classics: “Let The Sun Shine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” the eponymous “Hair,” the fervent “Aquarius.”  Maybe the counterculture Hair delineates is fakey, glitzed up and ersatz.  I don’t care: my toes rarely stopped tapping and a silly smile almost never left my face.

The players in this revival, none of whom were alive during the period in question, have at this material with gusto and energy.  NYC is filled with performers who can act, sing their hearts out, and have a lithe athletic stage presence that fills large hoary theaters like the Orpheum.  We reap the benefits of this in Hair.  Director Diane Paulus moves her ragged Tribe of free spirits with effortless and streamlined focus.  She directs the comic bits with flair and, most of all, she lets the music shine.

The story?  There isn’t much of one: Claude (Paris Remillard) has received his “Greetings!” draft notice and wrestles with the big question: what to do.  He asks, of all people, the peripatetic “Bananas” Berger (Steel Burkhardt) for advice (he’d have better luck asking a stray fox terrier for helpful hints).  Berger’s sorta girlfriend Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett) sings the lilting and lovely “Easy To Be Hard” after he thoughtlessly destroys a gift.  Woof (Matt DeAngelis) describes his super-heated jones for Mick Jagger.  And so on.  Finally, Claude goes down to the draft center, Tribe in tow (for a protest), and makes his decision.

Hair is essentially a revue; the story material simply provides a structure on which the songs are hung.  Overlong?  Possibly, but who cares.  The music is terrific and the Tribe handles it gorgeously.

Recommended.

For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.

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