Music by Galt MacDermot
Book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Directed by Diane Paulus
Presented by SHN
Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco
Oct. 25-Nov. 20, 2011
Out in the lobby they were painting faces and handing out flowers. Inside the theater there was star shine and sunshine and the warm glow of nostalgia. “Hair” is back in town, this time in the splendid 2008 Public Theater revival, directed by Diane Paulus, that took New York by storm. And it’s a trip, man.
So what does this iconic 1967 show have to say to us in almost-2012? Plenty! Kids still rebel against their parents and society, although the length of their tresses may not have a lot to do with it. Drugs remain a problem — even a bigger problem — but the drug scene has grown way beyond a hit from a joint at a party or in the park. The sensitive systems of the planet are way out of whack. Senseless wars still rage on all over the world, claiming the lives of kids, maybe not these kids but somebody’s. And, what do you know? The American people are taking their case to the streets once again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The energy of the “Hair” Tribe is infectious, and even a house loaded with critics and other functionaries of the theater scene finds itself clapping in time with some of those great old songs that paved the way for all the rock musicals that followed. The cast is terrific (if miked), particularly Phyre Hawkins as Dionne, Mike Evariste as Hud and Steel Burkhardt and Paris Remillard in the lead roles of Berger and Claude. The plot, such as it is, hangs on the latter — a self-styled “genius, genius,” a Polish kid from the Bronx with delusions of grandeur.
Unsure of his place in the world, Claude decides to answer the call of his country instead of burning his draft card like any sensible hippie and thereby hangs this slimmest of tales. His best friend, Berger, is an over-the-top rebel and their girls, Crissy (Kaitlin Kiyan), Jeanie (Aleque Reid) and the luminous Sara King as Sheila, the activist, mix it up deliciously, as everybody is hung up on somebody who is hung up on somebody else.
But the plot is not the heart of “Hair” and, in the end, as Claude morphs into a kind of sacrificial Christ-figure, the message is moving. And the most moving moment of all, the song “What a Piece of Work Is Man,” comes to us courtesy of Will Shakespeare. The nude scene at the end of Act I that shocked the world in the ’60s is so tastefully handled that you hardly notice it is happening — or maybe our sensibilities are different today. And, yes, when it’s all over you can get up on the stage and dance with the cast. Only this time around it will go out on YouTube, so make sure you’re lookin’ good.