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Theater review: 'Hair' at the Pantages Theatre

January 7, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Hair 1 

Baby boomers just started turning 65, which means more and more ex-hippies will be added to the rolls of Social Security. But if you think time has rendered “Hair” old-fashioned, you need to check out Diane Paulus’ exhilarating revival, which opened Thursday at the Pantages Theatre.

This Tony-winning production understands the musical’s strength, which has less to do with a well-wrought story and snappy show tunes than with the Dionysian expression of a community struggling to liberate itself from oppressive convention. The experience comes as close to “the American Tribal Love-Rock-Musical” subtitle as one can get without worrying about a raid from the LAPD.
From its off-Broadway inception in 1967, “Hair” has wrestled against charges of kitsch.  A few long-haired types detected something ersatz in the countercultural approximations of Galt MacDermot’s music and Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s book and lyrics. When Joseph Papp moved the show to Broadway the following year, in a new streamlined production directed by Tom O’Horgan, the authenticity factor reportedly went up, but the show’s mainstream success left some feeling like their movement had been co-opted. 

Hair 2 Paulus concentrates on what’s most genuine about “Hair,” the raucous, confused, desperate, hopeful plight of young people trying to forge a path to the future that doesn’t destroy their dreams or deny their bodies. The sex scenes no longer startle, the nudity rushes by without a blush, the sacrilege prompts smiles, and the quasi-religious attitude toward drugs seems almost quaint. What continues to be radical, however, is the solidarity of sensibility that unites men and women of different backgrounds to question an authority that sets its own agenda above everything else.

When Phyre Hawkins’ Dionne struts out in flower-child garb singing “Aquarius,” the musical’s rousing opening number and epoch-defining theme song, only the most stubborn could resist the sultry call to change. The show continues its star-shine seduction in the form of a revue, with actors dancing in the aisles and occasionally jumping into the laps of audience members, a few of whom looked like they’ve been waiting a long time for just this kind of impromptu love-in.
This national tour production has fielded a strong ensemble, and the joyful camaraderie among cast members is infectious. The high spirits never flag (thanks in large part to Karole Armitage’s breathless choreography) and similar to “The Donkey Show,” Paulus’ disco adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” there’s a feeling that any minute a full-blown rave might break out.   

Steel Burkhardt, who plays Berger, the tribe’s free-spirited Peter Pan, develops a chummy rapport with the audience the moment he drops his pants and shows off his fringe loincloth.  His performance captures the sweet, reckless, immature idealism of a generation that wants its pleasure without having to pay.
As Claude, the young man from Flushing, Queens, who pretends he hails from Manchester, England, Paris Remillard communicates the conflicted longing of someone who wishes he could relinquish his banal past.  Yet unlike his fellow hippies, he balks when it comes time to burn his draft card.  Responsibility may be a trap, but the alternative seems just as much a dead end to a kid whose head is a battleground between his parents’ carping voices and the siren sounds of rock 'n' roll. 

Paulus subtly corrects some of the troubling sexual politics of the show. Caren Lyn Tackett’s Sheila and Kacie Sheik’s Jeanie are more than pining love objects, and Matt DeAngelis’ Woof isn’t just an omnisexual fool for Mick Jagger but an affectionate presence.

The emotional resonance of this production is no doubt intensified by the context of our own wartime situation. The U.S. may no longer have a draft, but many young men and women confronting a job market with little breathing room for newcomers have no choice but to enlist. The show encourages us to hang out with its characters, to laugh at their rambunctious energy and to sympathize with their vulnerabilities. Tensions in the tribe break out, but the real terror is the sledgehammer of adult reality that’s waiting to descend. 

The music had me floating on a cloud of euphoria (even though the amplification was often overpowering), but heartbreak was palpable throughout. This revival redeems “Hair” not in a superficial tie-dye fashion but in a manner that connects us to what inspired an era to reinvent itself.

--Charles McNulty


 "Hair," Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Jan. 23. $25-$90. (800) 982-2787 or www.BroadwayLA.org. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Photos: Top: "Hair" national tour company. Bottom: Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis. Credit: Joan Marcus


Comments () | Archives (7)

I saw the NYC "Hair" last Spring and it had a very strange effect on me (a young baby-boomer). It was nostalgic but with a heavy dose of melancholy.

The music and story were the same as that of the 70's but in the context of history, it was very depressing.

We are supposed to learn from historical mistakes-- i.e. Vietnam.

And here we were, in 2010, reliving the same situation with two ill advised WARS.

Here we are, in 2011, sending our young people (many not even 20 yrs. old) to far away countries where they are being killed and maimed. Here we were in the the second decade of a new century, with OLD men ensconced in Washington, D.C. making decisions that send our youth into harm's way.

So, ultimately, "Hair" is extremely sad and depressing all the while being a fantastic performance to see.

Charles McNulty's review is spot on.

While I've not seen "Hair" until now, I know many of the songs. I've seen the film (and the film suffers horribly in the comparison). And I'm baby boomer. For me, the show began as a trip back in time, and a pleasing trip at that. The exuberant enthusiasm of the talented, youthful cast was infectious.

The longer I watched and listened, though, the faster I felt the past left behind. For me, "Hair" is more a commentary on current events that it is a revival of old history.

The audience – some people were dressed in period costume – were clearly ready to enjoy the show before it started, and the standing ovation given the cast and orchestra of "Hair" at its conclusion was nearly instantaneous.

We saw it on Thursday night. Awesome!!!

I saw Hair and I disagree with all of the outstanding reviews. While I normally love this musical, this production lacked soul and direction. The show also didn't hold up in a venue as big as the Pantages.

Hair...have the soundtrack and listen to it often,,,went to Pantages last night 1-14-2011 with great expectations..and was left feeling very sad...it was awful....the opening Aquarius was great..after that flat and soulless....Berger had no rapport with cast or audience, numbers had glib and cheesy moments, Claude was excellent and kept me mildly interested, constant cast members running into crowd, distracting and annoying....a total c minus show..sorry I cannot get past how poorly it was performed...have been to Broadway, Kennedy Center...and this by far was the worst I have seen...save your money and see something else.

If this one won a Tony Award...the standards sure have been lowered...way down.

I saw this show yesterday. In over 35 years of theater attendance, this was by far the worst show I've ever seen. I left after 30 minutes. All they did was attack Christianity, God, and productive society. Men demonstrated having sex with other men as well. Bottom line is that it depicts a bunch of unhappy people who become happy when they are on drugs and they start acting like animals in the street. They are all so stupid and misinformed that they protest everything that makes America great. Unless you are a total fool, you would have more enjoyment flushing your money down the toilet than paying for this disgrace of an event. To make matters worse, the music was pretty bad as well. Again - worst theater show you'll ever see.


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