Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni
& James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by PJ Paparelli & JR Sullivan
Music director Austin Cook
Choreogrpher Mikey Rioux
At American Theatre Company, Chicago
Personal Note from Tom Williams regarding Hair
In late 1968-69, I became familiar with Hair for several reasons: by that time I had seen many Broadway musicals both in Chicago and in NYC so Hair was another new show to see and because I knew someone in the cast. Over the course of the run of Hair at the old Shubert Theatre, I saw Hair 8-10 times or more. I witnessed the extreme reactions that the show garnered from different audiences.
Early performances brought many walkouts – some shouting their disapproval out loud of the language, subject matter; some resisted the partial burning of the American flag (which happened only a few times). Many just shook their heads in disbelief. But, I believe that everyone left the show changed – affected – exhilarated – troubled – and, of course, thoroughly entertained. Once audiences got over or acclimated to the ground-braking attacks on the social norms of the establishment in the show, they witnessed a mesmerizing pop/rock high-energy Broadway musical that was a life-altering and musical theatre event that changed the rules. Broadway would never be the same. Like Showboat, like Oklahoma, like West Side Story, Hair broke barriers and moved the art in new directions. I can’t remember another musical having such a profound affect on audiences?
I have mixed memories of the show but, indeed, I was moved by the experience of Hair. I was in the Illinois Army National Guard and I didn’t do drugs, nor protest and I was an establishment member working as a sales rep., yet I was totally taken by the message of personal freedom that took me years before I made the decision to march to the beat of my own drummer. That is the message I got from Hair – never just conform – always challenge, do your own thing.
I also learned to appreciate risk-taking theatre, bouncy pop/rock scores and high-energy performers. So when I saw present ATC production I was impressed by how they captured the free spirit of the original production. For me it was pure nostalgia; for young folks it may be a curiosity piece; but for all it is a manic, engaging love festival with a terrific infectious score. Who can resist?
Unfortunately, PJ Paparelli has a liking for the raw material that was cut and refined in tryout and preview productions of shows like Grease. There is a reason that shows are changed, to make them work better so why remount a hit show with material that the creators cut? I want to see the finished, polished production not the show with inferior material. That’s like reading an unedited transcript of Shakespeare with all the errors still present. Well, the present ACT production of Hair reverts back to deleted material from the Off-Broadway production.Why? The polished production lasted for 1,750 performances on Broadway and it has, over the years, performed worldwide in thousands of productions with the main material.
But the present ATC production does have the spirit and spontaneity of the Broadway Hair but unfortunately it suffer from a cast of weak singers and over staging that made the show drag in the second act especially in the drug induced hallucination scene. Sound problems and the girls slurring their lyrics and some off key on their tunes didn’t help. The show is slowly paced and begs for some generous cuts. They drastically tamed down the nude scene having only some cast members only removing their tops or bottoms with no one getting fully nude as often happens in most productions of Hair.
I’d advise young folks, like I did with my young intern, to understand that Hair captured the tribulations of discontent of the 60′s through satire, sarcasm and mockery with the music utilizing the sheer energy of youngsters in a manner that only live theatre can capture. The show got our generation stimulated and that is a valid role for the performing arts in a society. My mind was racing back to those wild times when our fears and dreams were threatened with uncertainty. Most of us made little changes that cumulatively changed the world. I believe that Hair stimulated some youngsters to make a difference.
Unfortunately, the ACT production, with the weird staging and the poor vocals left me cold. Yet Paparelli’s ATC production does give enough flavor of that Era to be worth taking a look despite the production flaws.
At American Theatre company (ATC), 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission.