Looking back on the age of Aquarius
By Ray Hogan
No one seemed to be paying much attention to the slow-moving hippie
on the stage of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on a recent Tuesday night.
But when the lights went down and the actors entered the stage
through the aisles, the audience knew exactly why they were there.
"When the moon is in the seventh house/And Jupiter aligns with
Mars/Then peace will guide the planets/And love will steer the stars."
"This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Aquarius! Aquarius!"
"Hair" is back on Broadway
"Hair" is back on Broadway 42 years after it became a theater
sensation by harnessing youth culture, an up-to-the-minute soundtrack
and a general re-imagination of the American musical.
With a fully integrated cast, on-stage nudity and songs that became
pop hits soon after their stage premieres, "Hair" wasn't a rock
opera. It was, however, remarkable in its channeling of youth culture
in almost real time. When it opened in 1967 at the Public Theater, it
fulfilled Joseph Papp's mission of bringing the issues of the day
directly to the Public's stage. After opening on Broadway in April
1968, the show ran for 1,750 performances, followed by nearly 2,000 in London.
Songs like "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine" and "Let the Sun
Shine In" became theatrical and popular standards. Songs from the
score have been recorded by Nina Simone, Three Dog Night and The
"Hair" officially opens Tuesday but the revival's success has already
been tested: A Public Theater production in Central Park became one
of the premiere cultural events of last summer.
James Rado, who wrote the book and lyrics to "Hair" with the late
Gerome Ragni, isn't sure how the musical has connected with a new
audience. "That's a mystery to me," he admits. "All I could think of
was that maybe their parents may have had the album. There's still a
youthfulness to the story and there are modern concerns plus the
tribal thing of kids their own age. 'Hair' kind of reinforces the
(President) Obama message of change, it reinforces that hope for
something new and wonderful to take place. It's very timely."
The "Hair" on stage now is a return to Ragni and Rado's original
vision, which was altered along the way from The Public Theatre
presentation in 1967 to the Great White Way in 1968.
"We wanted to break the mold," Rado says. "Coming from a background
of loving musicals, we felt this was the time"¦We knew we were
breaking form. It was kind of like a little crusade we had to excite
and thrill the audience. Things were very human and thrilling to us
on the street. We were bringing real life and the street into the theater."
"Hair" is the story of a group of New York City teenagers undergoing
extreme awakenings (politically, sexually, psychedelically) against
the backdrop of Vietnam and the traditional ways of their parents.
The two central male characters, Berger, the extroverted dreamer; and
Claude, the conflicted ideologist, are based on Ragni and Rado,
respectively, both of whom played the roles when the show first
opened on Broadway.
Rado stops short of calling "Hair" autobiographical. He and Ragni met
in 1964 while both were acting off-Broadway in "Hang Down Your Head
and Die." "I think there's something of Claude's temperament that was
probably me," Rado says. "I also wrote a lot of Berger and Jerry
wrote a lot of me."
Seeing "Hair" in preview, it's not surprising to see the audience
treating the songs as classics, anticipating them and singing along.
Although re-creating the fashion of the hippies appears slightly
forced, the rest of this show has effortlessly transitioned into the
21st century. It could be easy for many of the songs to be lost in
hippie-dippie nostalgia. Instead, the cast finds new life in them.
The band on stage includes a horn section, but the driving guitars
provide the music's constant.
Martha LoMonaco, director of Fairfield University's Theatre Program,
remembers taking a bus trip as an eighth-grader from her home in
Allentown, Pa., to see the Broadway production. "My friend and I were
so loquacious, filling in the suburban adults," she says. "The
suburban people were allured and fascinated by the phenomenon of the
hippies. This was a safe way to experience the hippie environment."
In 1999, producing her own version of "Hair" in Fairfield as part of
a campuswide project focusing on the 1960s, LoMonaco's research led
her to The Joseph Papp/New York Shakespeare Festival Archives at The
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. As she had
suspected, there were significant differences in the show that opened
at the Public Theatre in 1967 and the one that wound up on Broadway
the following year (there was a pit stop at a midtown discotheque in
between). She has published two essays on her experience with "Hair."
Her research led to the discovery that Rado and Ragni were really
aiming to document a new youth culture, aka the Tribe. In her
articles, LoMonaco traces the show from its counter-cultural origins
to its success as a mainstream commodity. More than a dozen actors
were added for the show's Broadway opening. The plot, not overly
strong to begin with, was loosened even further.
LoMonaco's research proved that "Hair" had moved from a conventional
book musical at the Public to a concept musical, or happening, when
it opened on Broadway. When she produced "Hair" in 1999, LoMonaco
focused on what she believed were the authors' original intentions.
In her production, "Let the Sun Shine In" becomes a hymn for those
like Claude, who were killed in the war. Her production made Claude's
agonizing over the draft central to its plot.
"The show opens with 'Aquarius' and I did see it as an anthem, coming
to the rite and the ritual," she says. "It was huge at the time. The
whole notion of a global community. Now this is trite. Then these
were new ideas, to find community and grounding in new ideas that
young people were parlaying."
"Hair" is returning at a time when the country is in the middle of a
drawn-out war. The draft is central to the plot. Most of the cast
burn their draft cards. Claude is torn and at the show's end we learn
he becomes a casualty of war. How much of that plays with today's
audience remains to be seen.
"The staying power is that it was the first concept musical, the
story line didn't drive it, but the political overtones made it
unique. There really wasn't a rock musical until then," says Robert
Thompson, interim dean at the Purchase Conservatory of Music, who saw
the musical on Broadway in the late 1960s. "What I found unique about
it, it embodied everything about the 1960s with hair being the great
equalizer, making people sort of androgynous."
Thompson recently suggested "Hair" as a Purchase College performance
because students were outside protesting tuition increases while they
discussed what shows to stage in the coming season. "I have not seen
a protest on a college campus in 40 years," he says with pride.
Thompson says he believes today's college students realize the
significance of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, when rock and
folk music were viewed as vehicles for social change and poets were
respected community voices. "They seem to understand the significance
of it and are longing for authenticity and connection between music
and society in their own lives," Thompson says.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the movie "Hair," which
was directed by Milos Forman, stars Treat Williams and Beverly
D'Angelo and took extreme liberties with the narrative. The film made
the Claude character a Midwesterner who was spending a few days in
New York before being shipped off to war. D'Angelo played Sheila, who
in the musical is the intellectual and wealthy college student with a
left-leaning heart of gold. In Forman's story, she is an outsider who
becomes the object of Claude's affection. The film takes some very
strange twists and turns at the end with Berger mistaken for Claude
and shipped off to war.
Reaction to the film, especially by the theater community, is still
largely negative. John Farr, who operates the Best Movies by Farr Web
site and until recently wrote the DVD Detective column for The
Advocate and Greenwich Time, thinks the movie gets a bad rap.
"When you talk about a movie that's been made from a play, there is
always a weird kind of dynamic of people who see the movie and can't
accept it the way they accepted the play," he says. "It successfully
takes what was a series of vignettes and songs, Milos Forman had the
job of making a film here and come up with a story that glued the
thing together and allowed it to travel, all the things you can do
with film that you can't do with theater."
Yet Farr admits that he didn't see the film, which also boasts
choreography by Twyla Tharp, when it came out because he didn't want
it to diminish his experience of having seen the play. He also
remembers that by the time the movie was released, American youth
culture had moved to disco and "Saturday Night Fever." "Maybe not
enough time had passed to make it fresh," he says. "Now that the play
is being revived, what is the point of seeing the movie? The play is
going to come off better."
"I didn't see the movie until I was doing my research for the show,"
says LoMonaco. "The whole thing was very strange. It's another
example of how 'Hair' permutated in all kinds of directions."
It would seem the closest thing "Hair" has to a historical antecedent
is "Rent," which chronicled youth on New York's Lower East Side at
the height of the AIDS epidemic. Is there any other of era American
youth culture begging for theatrical treatment?
"The grunge era or the punk thing was visually exciting and
mysterious, and just the opposite of the hippie lifestyle," Rado
says. "The hippie would take you and the punk wanted to keep you out."
Staff Writer Ray Hogan can be reached at 964-2290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's the Age of Aquarius on Broadway for Hamilton actor
by SIMON HOUPT
March 29, 2009
New York Eight shows a week, Caissie Levy finds herself sandwiched
between a couple of hot men on the stage of the Al Hirschfeld
Theatre, and she hasn't quite figured out how she got there. "I don't
know what to tell you," she giggled the other day at an Italian
restaurant on Ninth Avenue. "I do enjoy the offbeat."
Levy is something of a free spirit. In the fall of 2001, after she'd
decided she wanted to make her living as an actor, she left her home
in Hamilton to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy
here in New York rather than one of the classical conservatory
programs offered by Montreal's National Theatre School or George
Brown College in Toronto.
"I wouldn't have stayed," she says of those other programs. "I'm very
disciplined when it comes to being in a show, playing a role, but I'm
not good just being in that whole framework of: paper's due at a
certain time." Even at AMDA, where the program runs less than two
years, she was restless. "I didn't want to be in school all that
much," she admits. "Really, I wanted to be onstage."
How appropriate, then, that these days she is onstage playing a young
woman who is rarely in school. Levy is starring in Broadway's highly
anticipated new production of Hair, opening tomorrow night, as Sheila
Franklin, a New York University student who spends most of her time
hanging out with a tribe of hippies, protesting the Vietnam War and
embodying the ethos of free love. Sheila's sweet on the hippie
leader, a long-haired hunk named Berger, though she's also got room
in her heart (and her bed) for Claude Bukowski, a kid from Queens who
just got drafted.
Everyone seems so friendly and free up there on the stage of the
Hirschfeld, so Summer of Love-ish, that, by the end of the show,
audience members just want to get up and join them. Which, in fact,
many of them do. One of the loveliest aspects of the new production
is an impromptu dance party that breaks out on stage after the
curtain call as the show's powerful house band blasts out a
full-throated rendition of Let the Sunshine In. Hundreds of audience
members swarm the stage, often taking the opportunity to share with
cast members how affected they are.
"They're just overflowing with emotion: 'This is the best show I've
seen!'" says Levy. Many people share their memories with her of
seeing the original production, which began at the Public Theater in
1967 and then transferred to Broadway the following spring for a run
of almost four years.
"People get up and dance, young and old, they are ready to get on
that stage. I think that's just the energy building throughout the
show," says Levy, nibbling on a Caesar salad. "The other night, I met
someone who played Sheila in one of the original companies in San
Francisco, so I introduced her to our director who was onstage
dancing. It's just so cool to be able to do that, to interact with
everyone, to hear everyone's stories."
Levy's own story is fairly straightforward. Now 27, she grew up in
Hamilton, the youngest child and only daughter of a family doctor
whose wife runs the office. The family was, she says, always very
arts-oriented, which is one reason she doesn't think the nudity at
the end of Act One in Hair is such a big deal.
"It doesn't seem that far from who I am," explains Levy, who has the
quiet confidence young actors develop after years of fending for
themselves. "I luckily come from a very liberal household where my
parents are, like, It's art, man." Still, she admits, having her
parents and two brothers there on opening night tomorrow, "I'll be a
little freaked out when they're in the audience and I'm getting
naked, let's be honest."
Hair marks the first time Levy is originating a role for Broadway,
though she's been in the industry since graduating from AMDA in the
spring of 2002. With every other job, she was stepping into a machine
already running. There was the role of Maureen in the non-Equity tour
of Rent that she landed right out of school, a year understudying
Penny Pringle in the Toronto production of Hairspray, more than a
year actually playing Penny during a subsequent tour and on Broadway,
and almost two years in Wicked as Elphaba: first as an understudy on
Broadway, then in the role itself during a stint in Los Angeles.
Which is one reason Hair means so much to her. "This has been, for
sure, the most creatively satisfying experience I've had, just
because I've been able to bring so much of my own ideas to the table
and make them part of the show. I wasn't able to do that before."
There is also Hair's anti-war, pro-love message. "Where we're at with
politics right now and what's going on in our world, I think people
are ready to hear this kind of message again. It's very relevant and
it's very relatable, and I think the young people are just thrilled
that there's something [such as a play] saying something of meaning
onstage. There's a place for all the fun musicals, and all the
spectacle musicals and I've been a part of both of those things and
cherish those but I'm also really proud to be part of something
that's talking about what we're facing in the world."
The show, suggests Levy, is almost Canadian in its outlook. "I have
to say this right," she begins: she doesn't want to offend the U.S.,
which has given her a rewarding livelihood and many friends.
"I've always been really proud to be a Canadian living in the U.S.,
and making that distinction," she says. "I feel like we embody a lot
of the things in Hair, more so than the U.S. does, currently, and now
with Barack in office and hopefully the war's ending, I think the
U.S. is catching up a little bit without sounding completely
condescending. And so I feel really proud to be part of spreading
this message. Kind of representing the Canadian hippies."
March 30 Preview of Broadway's Hair Canceled
By Andrew Gans
and Adam Hetrick
25 Mar 2009
The March 30 preview performance of the current revival of Hair,
which officially opens March 31 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, has
The performance was canceled "to allow the actors a day of rest in
the midst of a long string of consecutive performances," according to
a show spokesperson.
The 1968 rock musical Hair, which officially introduced Broadway to
the counterculture movement four decades ago, began previews at the
Hirschfeld March 6.
Diane Paulus stages the new production that began life as a 40th
anniversary concert presentation by the Public Theater/New York
Shakespeare Festival at the Central Park's Delacorte Theater in 2007.
The Public later fully produced Hair in summer 2008 as part of its
Shakespeare in the Park season. The al fresco Paulus production
extended three times, and now resurfaces on Broadway.
The revival of Hair reunites much of the young cast from the Central
Park stagings, including Will Swenson as Berger, Allison Case as
Crissy, Kacie Sheik as Jeanie, Bryce Ryness as Woof, Darius Nichols
as Hud, Megan Lawrence as Mother and Andrew Kober as Margaret Mead/Dad.
Returning tribe members also include Steel Burkhardt, Lauren Elder,
Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, John Moauro, Ato Blankson-Wood,
Brandon Pearson, Paris Remillard, Maya Sharpe, Theo Stockman, Tommar
Wilson, Jackie Burns, Kaitlin Kiyan, Nicole Lewis, Megan Reinking and
Newly added for Hair's Broadway transfer are Tony nominee Gavin Creel
as Claude, Sasha Allen as Dionne and Caissie Levy as Sheila.
The iconic tribal rock musical has book and lyrics by the late Gerome
Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.
"With a score including such enduring musical numbers as 'Let the Sun
Shine In,' 'Aquarius,' 'Hair' and 'Good Morning Starshine,' Hair
depicts the birth of a cultural movement in the 60's and 70's that
changed America forever: the musical follows a group of hopeful,
free-spirited young people who advocate a lifestyle of pacifism and
free-love in a society riddled with intolerance and brutality during
the Vietnam War," according to Broadway production notes. "As they
explore sexual identity, challenge racism, experiment with drugs and
burn draft cards, the 'tribe' in Hair creates an irresistible message
of hope, peace and change that continues to resonate with audiences
40 years later."
The Hair creative team includes set designer Scott Pask, costume
designer Michael McDonald, lighting designer Kevin Adams, sound
designer Acme Sound Partners and choreographer Karole Armitage.
For tickets phone (212) 239-6200 or visit Telecharge.
For further information visit HairBroadway. http://hairbroadway.com/
The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is located at 302 West 45th Street.