Hair tours at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through March 6
Photos by Joan Marcus
Does a musical about the fervor of the ’60s and flower children have a place on today’s stage? Can a polished production capture something that was inherently messy and spontaneous? According to our critics, yes… and no. Read the following excerpts of reviews for “Hair” at the Orpheum Theatre, or click on the links to read the full reviews.
For me, as for many theatergoers, everything pivots on the song “Let the Sun Shine In.” The emotional power of this number captures the most moving elements of this musical by composer Galt MacDermot and book and lyrics writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
Tinged with both grief and optimism, “Let the Sun Shine In” is delivered as Claude (Paris Remillard), who did not drop out or burn his draft card like so many of his peers, lies in a cone of light, his stiff body set against an American flag. The stage image is powerful and relates very clearly to today, when the bodies of our young men and women serving overseas still arrive at Dover Air Force Base.
…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.
Whatever transgressive power that the hippy look and lifestyle ever carried has been wasted away by endless parodies, documentaries, parody documentaries, and straightforward documentaries that play like parodies.
For chunks of Tuesday’s performance, that’s pretty much how it felt. A young cast (most probably weren’t alive when John Lennon was shot) gamely played with the material, cracking jokes about square parents, school teachers, the establishment, and living a free, easy, libertine life.
Near the end of the first act, the action snapped into place. The story began to focus more and more on Claude, a Flushing teenager who dreams of Manchester, England, and who is facing his draft notice. It’s his struggle that fuels the best moments of the play, including a terrific, tribal draft card burning at the end of act one (also where you’ll see the show’s famous nudity–look quick!), through to the musical’s uneven second act, and finally to the stunning final chorus of “Let the Sun Shine In.” In fact, part of me wishes the show would have ended with that moment, skipping the lengthy curtain call entirely.
The show looks and sounds like a million bucks, but its soul is as thin as a dime.
Diane Paulus’ production tries mightily to re-create the look of the 1960s, complete with big Afros, beads and psychedelic lighting. But while the actors on the stage bring undeniable vocal power to their roles, virtually none are able to transmit the sense that they’re doing anything but play-acting.
Steel Burkhardt is antic and larger than life as the lead hippie Berger, and Paris Remillard brings a certain angst to the duty-bound Claude. Both have well-trained voices that are more than up to the demands of their roles. But neither does much to distinguish their characters; the pair could have swapped roles at intermission without the audience noticing.
The females in the company, too, are a strong-voiced lot, but they, too, seem plagued by a reluctance to commit. Take Kaitlin Kiyan, who plays the role of Crissy — a tribe member who steps forward in the first act to sing “Frank Mills,” a song of unrequited love. In other productions, the tune has been variously interpreted as a broad comic number or a wistful elegy to a love that was never meant to be. Kiyan delivers the tune like an audition piece: bell clear, note perfect … and devoid of any context that would give it meaning or emotional heft.
That performance is a microcosm of the whole show, which is carried out with a slick sense of professionalism and a certain politeness.
Did you see “Hair” at the Orpheum? If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.