Thursday, February 18, 2010

The second NY trip to the theatre was to see the revival of HAIR at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

This was the one that Owen had been most looking forward to so I had my fingers crossed it would be good. Luckily it was an excellent production!

I had only seen the show once before in Peter Bogdanov's rather prosaic production that appeared at the Old Vic in 1993.

My only memory of the show to be honest was Sinitta spiralling down from the flies hanging by one hand from a rope singing AQUARIUS - oh and sitting in bleachers on the stage with my fellow First Call co-workers watching said event only to be informed by my neighbour that one of our party had started a nosebleed - just as Paul J. Medford popped up behind our row to sing the next verse, his spotlight showing up a bloodied Nigel looking like a Viet Nam casualty!

Luckily Diane Paulus has taken a more vigorous approach to the material and although there are still moments in the show that look quaint and toe-curlingly dated, the sheer brio and verve of the company made it a great success.
Unlike a recent revival at London's Gate Theatre which wrenched the piece into the 21st Century to reference Dubya and Iraq, Paulus has kept the show in 1967 and the show is peppered with the contemporary references that would have so delighted the audiences.

For a show that always gives the impression of just being cobbled together and a scattergun hippie (had to use the word eventually!) vaudeville it actually has quite a consistent plot threaded through it. 'The Tribe' of anti-war, pro-love drop-outs have among their number the volatile, tripping Berger (Will Swenson) and the more contemplative Claude (Gavin Creel) who tells people he comes from Manchester but in truth is from Queens.
They are surrounded by their acolytes: Woof (Bryce Ryness) a sweet-natured soul who would like to bed Mick Jagger, Dionne (Jeannette Bayardelle) a sassy soulful sista, Crissy (Vanessa Ray) is a plaintive younger girl who pines for a long-lost boyfriend, Jeanie (Kacie Sheik) is pregnant but not by her beloved Claude and Hud (Darius Nichols) is a black power activist. A satellite to the group is Sheila (Caissie Levy) who is a NYU student and political activist who is constantly disappointed by Berger's flippant behaviour to her.

They and the rest of The Tribe are surprised by Claude's reticence to burn his draft card, not realising how conflicted Claude is by his real direction in life.The production has transferred from Central Park and it now seems to have taken over the Hirschfeld with ease as the cast move freely about the auditorium - it's a brave person who sits in the front-row! - and it does mean that the audience always feels part of the show - even if a little trepiditiously! Even though we were in the 2nd row of the circle they still found us to throw flowers at us and distribute leaflets to join a be-in - sadly I was watching a musical at the time.

The ultimate in interaction comes at the end during the famous finale when the audience are invited onstage to dance with the cast - indeed they have just hit upon the whizz idea of filming these finales and making them available on the show's website the next day for audience members to be able to e-mail their friends with!
There are odd anomalies in watching HAIR in the 21st Century - especially the top dollar Broadway price to watch hippies castigate materialism with the extensive merchandise outside in the lobby to boot. The show still betrays it's writing born out of improv - most of it works, certain longueurs don't - but although James Rado and Gerome Ragni's book might be raggedy, the glue that holds the show together are their lyrics and Galt MacDermot's score. Unlike the theatre rock scores that followed - these songs seem organic to the show. to have grown out of genuine experience as opposed to with an eye to the charts.

Paulus' cast are to be applauded that in the digital age they took us back to the joss sticks and patchouli oil of 1967.Although a little too manically bug-eyed, Will Swenson was a charismatic Berger and Gavin Creel - who I have since found out is an out Broadway leading man - was fine as Claude. His character is the only one who should suggest some depth as he struggles with what is to be his destiny and he did this well. His final moments on stage were very moving - an elegy to the soldiers who now as then, make the decision based on duty.The other men who made an impression were Bryce Ryness' Woof, a blissed-out giant going to great lengths to stress he was not gay but was gagging to sleep with Mick Jagger and Darius Nichols also was hugely watchable as the slyly sensuous Hud.

The actresses also made bricks with the straw that Rado and Ragni give them in the book. The standout performance was from Caissie Levy as Sheila who has two of the most obvious 'hit' songs - EASY TO BE HARD and GOOD MORNING STARSHINE - and she sang them with a huge voice and also played the role well. Jeannette Bayardelle was standing in for Sasha Allen and sang AQUARIUS and WHITE BOYS with a sensual soulfulness and Vanessa Ray had an appealing wistfulness as Chrissy, singing my favorite song from the score FRANK MILLS with a sweet poignancy.
Diane Paulus' direction gave the show a unity and power, Scott Pask's bare painted set and Michael McDonald's exuberant costumes contributed much to the show while the 12 piece onstage band under the direction of musical director Nadia Digiallonardo truly rocked da house!

The good news is that the Gielgud Theatre will play host to this production from April and the entire Broadway company are transferring over so you too Constant Reader will be able to see this fine production!

1 comment:

Owen said...

And the cast recording is excellent too. I *am* dancing on the stage at the Gielgud!