The best thing about the 2009 revival of HAIR on Broadway is its stars: Gavin Creel as smooth, adorable boy-next-door Claude and Will Swenson as wacky, carefree clown Berger. Both deserved those Tony nods.
No, the best thing about HAIR is the supporting cast, especially the ladies. Caissie Levy is lovely; Allison Case exudes a sweet pixie vibe; and Kacie Sheik rises from her brother’s shadow into a Broadway spotlight of her own.
No, wait – the best thing is the ensemble – not a weak member amongst this Tribe! I was particularly drawn to watching Kaitlin Kiyan (recent high-school graduate who made her professional debut in the park last summer), Jackie Burns (does she remind anyone else of Lea Michele?), and Allison Guinn (an understudy who totally stole the show filling in as Buddahdalirama!).
Ok, no. It isn’t the cast itself that shines brightest, but the energy of the production. The show takes place all over the Al Hirschfeld Theater, expanding way out from the stage. There are moments in the boxes, in the aisles, and even on the chairs amongst the audience! The night I went, Lawrence Fishburne was pulled out of his seat and did a nice little softshoe number with members of the cast.
But then – maybe it’s the music that’s the best part of HAIR. From the opening number “Aquarius” (sung by the powerhouse Sasha Allen ), to “I Believe In Love,” to the title track (“Hair”) to “Where Do I Go” and “Good Morning Starshine”… it’s difficult to imagine a landscape of American music without these classics. Hearing them belted out in a Broadway theater is a treat. The show is as much a rock concert as a play.
The story? Yeah, you know, that’s a pretty important part too, now that you mention it. I remember growing up dancing to the LP in the kitchen with my mom, but I’d forgotten the story that ties the music together. Not just a hootenanny of catchy tunes, HAIR has a message that isn’t quite as upbeat as its music. HAIR is about war – draft-dodging, in particular – and there are some heavy themes amongst the toe-tapping score.
Everyone at the show knows that the closing number is “Let the Sunshine In.” How many are prepared for a cast that stands together with tears streaming down their cheeks as they sing it? I expected a song of celebration… but it is performed as a song of mourning. I was emoting, too – tears and tears and tears. Perhaps this is the most important/ “best” part of the show: the way it moves the heart.
The closing scene may be somber, but then the sun does shine in and the curtain call is joyful again – reprisals of “Hair” and a happier “Let the Sunshine In”. The audience is invited up onstage to dance amongst the Tribe, and even those of us who stayed in our seats were up on our feet, moving to the music. It’s like a good old-fashioned be-in, and it feels for a moment like the 60s. (I think! I wasn’t born yet in the 60’s!)
I went to see HAIR with my parents. Mom fell in love with the show during its original run on Broadway; she couldn’t wait to see the new production. I, being the Broadway nut that I am, was thrilled to see it with her – a chance to geek out together! I observed her out of the corner of my eye as she watched the show; it was a real treat to see her getting so into the experience.
On my other side, Dad was tapping his toes as well; he’s a big lover of musical theater, although going in I didn’t think he had a particular affinity for this specific show. That’s why, once the celebration waned after the curtain call and the masses began exiting out onto 45th street, I was caught off guard to see tears shining in my father’s eyes.
We stopped, allowing the rest of the audience to stream out around us. “Dad? You okay?” I asked. And when he opened his mouth, his voice broke and the tears brimmed over.
“I was 18 years old in 1967,” Dad told us. “I knew a lot of guys who went to war and didn’t come back. I didn’t have to go – but I would have gone. You have no idea how hard a time that was for us back then.”
He’s right. I had and have no idea what it was like to face a draft. I know how to protest a war I don’t believe in; but I don’t know a soul who was forced to go into our current battle against his or her will. And the idea of going away and never coming back… well, that is too big and too sad a concept for me to wrap my head around.
So guess what, Broadway-lovers. HAIR is both a fun-loving musical romp, and also has something to say so deep that it made my 60-year-old father shed real tears. And THAT duality, I’m here to declare, is the best thing about this show.