By Jeff Walsh
I was interested to see the wildly-popular revival of Hair on Broadway because I think the gay and hippie movements are intertwined, as both really got started in the late 60s. While the history of the gay rights movement links the Stonewall Riots to the death of Judy Garland, as they happened during the week of her funeral, to me it's always seemed like the culture was already shifting sexually, spiritually and culturally in ways that demanded that homosexuality express itself more naturally.
In the 40-odd years that have passed since Hair first played Broadway, hippies have become a bit of a cultural joke, but a lot of their legacy is still with us: the sexual revolution (including LGBT acceptance), health food, drug culture, expanding consciousness in other ways such as eastern religions, and of course, the music.
So, it is interesting to see Hair through that lens in its current revival, as a snapshot of a huge cultural shift. Of course, if you could care less about any of that, you'd still be in luck, since it's just a fun time capsule of a show brought expertly to life with an exuberant young cast.
The glue of this Tony Award-winning show for Best Revival are its two male leads: the wild Berger, played with gleeful abandon by Will Swenson, and the more conflicted Claude, expertly captured by out actor Gavin Creel, who has hippie ideals and a draft card he doesn't feel comfortable burning. These two lead a huge tribe that capture the joy and optimism of the age. And the staircase connecting the stage to the audience definitely gets a workout, with a lot of cast members coming down and bringing the scenes out into the audience (I ended up dancing with one of the female cast members in the aisle during one scene).
As for gay content, we know one of the male characters has a crush on Claude, but that's about it. By today's standards, it's barely there, but 40 years ago, this wasn't subject matter that found its way onstage often. The show itself is sort of a pastiche capturing a lot of what was going on in the hippie movement of the late 60s, rather than a more traditional story told with musical numbers. But it's amazing how free the cast seem to get during the show with their improvisation and exuberance, but always moving things forward.
And, for our UK readers, the entire Broadway cast is coming to London soon, so be sure to check them out. If you're headed to Broadway, though, don't fear, there will be a new tribe waiting for you there, too.
Hair is probably best known for some of its timeless songs like "Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine In)", "I Got Life," and "Hair," and the fact that the cast (except Creel) end Act One naked. But there's a lot more going on in this show that's worth checking out. Catch it if you can.
You can check out the show website here: http://www.hairbroadway.com/