Just as what’s billed as the 25th anniversary tour of the 1968 “tribal rock” musical “Hair” comes off a tad after the fact, the show itself seems like an aging hippie who’s even older than he acknowledges. For all the energetic exertions of its young cast, this revival is a wilting reminder that much of the flower-power idealism of the ’60s comes across as just plain silly in the cynical ’90s.
And this production doesn’t help matters any by too often taking an overly cartoonish approach, which has the effect of making the musical’s still-valid observations about war and peace seem like mere goofiness.
But this revival may well attract business on two demographic fronts: hippies-turned-middle-aged, suburban theater subscribers eager for a nostalgic trip, and grunge types who weren’t born in 1968 but are intent on donning tie-dye garb. Even if audience reaction to the show shifts between exhilaration and embarrassment, folks probably won’t regret going along for the psychedelic ride. And during anthemic numbers like “Good Morning, Starshine” and “Let the Sunshine In,” that ride accelerates into a feel-good high.
Those audience members who think in terms of theater history will note that the show’s bookless format, onstage band, absence of a set, “Purple Haze”-like lighting, group-grope choreography and ensemble parading down the aisles — all so revolutionary in 1968 — now seem thoroughly conventional. As for the once-celebrated nudity, there’s a ho-hum brief flash in half-light.
The production is smoothly staged, as well it should be, given that director James Rado co-wrote the book and lyrics for the original show; he also seamlessly incorporates three new musical numbers. Similarly, many of the cast members have clocked experience in a European tour of “Hair.” Especially appealing in the large cast is Ali Zorlas as the pregnant Jeanie who exemplifies the airy ideals of that distant era.
On the tech side, Rick Belzer’s production design has virtually no props to worry about and instead makes strikingly effective use of concert-style lighting and smoke effects. The minimal staging should make this production easy to tour.