Forty years after it first rocked-and shocked-Broadway, the groundbreaking musical Hair is back. Central Park is the perfect setting for the musical that immortalized sixties hippies, and it's fitting that the Public Theater (which opened its Astor Place theater with Hair in 1967) decided to revive it this summer. While the flower-power costumes and shoulder-length hair make Hair a period piece today, the show's antiwar message resonates almost as powerfully today as it did in the Vietnam era. And the eclectic, electric songs still sound fresh and invigorating as performed by the energetic young cast.
Galt MacDermot wrote the remarkably varied music, and Gerome Ragni and James Rado collaborated on the book and lyrics. Among the well-known songs are "Aquarius," "Easy to Be Hard," "Hair," and "Let the Sun Shine In." But less familiar numbers like "Hare Krishna," "Sheila Franklin," and "Going Down" also hold up quite well. Some tunes go by quickly, which isn't a bad thing since there are 27 songs in the first act alone. Others, like "Walking in Space," have gorgeous melodies and pointed, affecting lyrics. "How dare they try to end this beauty," sings the Tribe, a ragtag band of hippies, in that ode to tripping.
The Tribe's unofficial leader is Berger (Will Swenson), a free-loving free-spirit who has slept with many fellow Tribe members. His buddy Claude (Jonathan Groff) likes to say he's from Manchester, England, but actually hails from Flushing, Queens. We meet his very square parents (Megan Lawrence and Andrew Kober) in one of the broad, quasi-Vaudevillian sketches that haven't aged as well as the music. There isn't much of a plot, other than the question of whether Claude will burn his draft card. Though the light comedy often falls flat, the antiwar message remains undeniably powerful.
Director Diane Paulus can't do much with the comic bits, but she does capture the anything-goes, uninhibited spirit of late-sixties hippie culture. Karole Armitage's choreography is loose and unstructured, which suits the show. Mostly she just moves the Tribe members around the stage-and up and down the aisles of the Delacorte Theater. Michael McDonald designed the cool hippie threads, and Michael Chybowski contributed the warm lighting. Scott Pask's set essentially re-creates Central Park on a stage in the middle of Central Park, leaving room for the on-stage orchestra.
Occasionally the singers have trouble staying in sync with the orchestra, probably due to the lack of TV monitors. But all the cast members sing their hearts out while getting into the flower-child spirit. Swenson makes a charismatic and effortlessly sexy Berger. Groff throws himself into the jubilant "I Got Life" and "Hair," then ably switches gears with the moving Act I finale "Where Do I Go." As Dionne, the role originated by Melba Moore, Patina Renea Miller shows off her potent, soulful voice in "Aquarius," "White Boys," and "Walking in Space." Caren Lyn Manuel's "Easy to Be Hard" is a bit disappointing (especially compared to Jennifer Hudson's knockout rendition in the 2004 Actors Fund benefit performance of Hair), but Manuel fares better with "Good Morning Starshine." Bryce Ryness and Darius Nichols are well cast as Woof and Hud, and as Crissy Allison Case delivers a sweetly understated "