Peace, love and rock and roll: this legendary expression is an apt way to describe the Broadway musical “Hair.”
Set right smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War and the opposing counterculture movement, “Hair” captures the passion and frustration of this period and compiles it into one explosive musical.
Do not walk into the Al Hirshfeld Theater expecting to see a regular Broadway musical, this one is unique in a way that most shows can only hope to be.
The musical opens in a manner that is far more reminiscent of stand-up comedy than a Broadway play. Will Swenson, who plays Berger, directly addresses members of the audience, pointing out who walked in late and who scored good seats and making other ad-libbed comments.
This level of interaction with the audience does not wear off as the play goes on; the cast has torn down the eminent fourth wall of the theater world and has reached out to their audience—literally.
Cast members will touch you, stand on top of the armrests beside you, hand out daises and invite you to join their protests. However, none of these theatrical techniques are contrary for the sake of it.
The distinctive style of “Hair” correlates directly with the point in time that they are trying to recreate on stage. The 1960s hippie subculture was all about letting go of inhibitions and structuralism and this is exactly what director Diane Paulus has done with her revival of “Hair.”
It would be a grave contradiction to follow the typical rules of theater in a play that is all about breaking the rules and questioning authority.
The opening numbers of the musical, “Aquarius,” “Donna,” “Hashish,” “Sodomy,” “Colored Spade” and “Manchester England” do not follow a strictly linear, sequential plot.
There is a great deal of spontaneity, which in fact is carefully planned and arranged by the musical’s creative team, but appears effortless and eases the audience into the overall tone of the play and beckons its viewers to “Lighten up, man.”
However, just like the hippie movement, which wasn’t only about listening to good music and getting high, “Hair” has greater meaning as well. Without a doubt, it is a fun musical that makes you want to sing and dance along with it, while it also enacts and revives a pivotal point in American history.
The Vietnam War left scores of American youth angry and dissatisfied with their government as the country fought in a war they didn’t believe in. Protests, great and small, violent and peaceful marked this era of history, and “Hair” captures the electricity and vivacity which fuelled this movement in a very tangible, not to mention audible, way.
The musical deviates from the more carefree aspects of the show to delve into the issues of war, conscription and generational differences that were the defining aspects of the late 1960s. The musical features characters like Berger who are more or less archetypical hippies largely detached from society to radical activists like Sheila (Caissie Levy) and people like Claude (Gavin Creel) who fall somewhere in between.
Everyone who made up the hippie culture is accounted for and caricaturized in this musical.
Go see the show. Just like the culture it’s based on, “Hair” welcomes and embraces people of all shapes and sizes, while offering a little something for music lovers of all variations. Whether you’re a thoroughly cultured thespian or someone who just likes to rock out to their iPod, “Hair” is sure to please.
Emily Lake can be reached at email@example.com.