Review: Hair @ Oriental Theatre
gapersblock.com | Mar 15th 2011
The cast of Hair at the Oriental Theatre. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Before you ask -- yes, there are naked people in the Broadway in Chicago production of Hair, running through March 20. It was the first thing my theatergoing companion asked me about when I invited her to join me for last week's preview. Having grown up with the music of Hair, but never having seen the film or the stage production, I didn't know about the nudity. Sure enough, at the end of Act I, the stage lights dimmed to a predawn glow and the entire cast stood before us, naked as the day they were born. My friend Grace turned to me and whispered: "See, I told you there were naked people." And God bless them for keeping it true to the original hippie-dippie, freeloving original; if it was me up there I would have demanded a merkin. Who knows, maybe they were wearing merkins, I'm no expert on the subject. "Wow," I said to Grace, "that's more naked people than I've seen all year" (and I work in a gym).
I can count the music of Hair as one of the major soundtracks of my childhood; it was part of my mother's musical repertoire, along with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel. I was born a little too late for the age of Aquarius, but just in time to grow up in a household filled with nostalgia for it. Listening to the music live was a little like revisiting the family room of my childhood, sitting on a shag rug while an LP of the musical scratched and popped its way across the family turntable.
The live version at the Oriental Theatre can only be described as exuberant -- in addition to the stage, the actors make use of platforms on stage right and left, and occasionally step offstage and interact with the audience. Darius Nichols (Hud), who will forever be known as "Grace's boyfriend," walked right up to her and asked: "How you doing sweetheart?" to which she replied: "I'm doing just fine, thank you." Then he reached out his hand and lightly stroked her cheek, cementing his role in our imaginations for all eternity.
The story has its parallels to current life: we are still fighting foreign wars, and while the circumstances may be different, young people are still struggling to make their way in the world. While it initially caught me off guard to watch a cast that I'm quite sure wasn't alive until at least 1985 (not that there's anything wrong with that) embodying the spirit of the '60's, I wouldn't want it any other way. (Besides, who wants to see a bunch of 60-year-olds naked?)
One song in particular struck me as relevant to our current times: "I've Got Life", in which Claude lists all the things he's got -- even if he has no money, no home, no family. Since the Wall Street crash of '08, a lot of us have had to take inventory of what we've got; "I've Got Life" could well be the anthem of the new economy.
Hair plays at the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph) through March 20. Ticket prices run from $27 to $80. For more information visit Broadway in Chicago or call 312-977-1710.
— J.H. Palmer
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