After 40 years, the moon’s not yet in the seventh house and Jupiter has yet to align with Mars, but the peace-love-freedom-happiness message of Ragni and Rado’s “Hair” remains resonant and relevant, and Galt MacDermot’s score still rocks the house. Helmer-choreographer Bo Crowell’s entertaining anniversary production at the MET, under the aegis of original impresario Michael Butler, avoids the usual fatal errors (smug superiority; updating; rampant amateurishness), and features a breakthrough lead performance.
Young James Barry’s angelic smile and fierce athleticism perfectly embody dreamweaver Claude, the gentle Flushing resident who affects coming from “Manchester, England, England” and never quite seems to belong anywhere. During all manner of musical chaos from the tribe of 28 on the tiny MET stage, Crowell keeps Barry front and center, the better for thesp to wordlessly convey the dilemma of the imminent draftee circa 1968, eager to rebel but unable to resist straight society’s indoctrination.
Since Claude’s impending Army induction is tuner’s sole wisp of plot, giving him a strong throughline does likewise for the production and forestalls the usual impression of “Hair” as an aimless concert. Act one remains a virtual counterculture revue of snappy songs showcasing various hippie types living on donations and doobies in Central Park. Yet through Crowell’s direction, we’re led to appreciate the Tribe as the force countering Claude’s knee-jerk obedience to authority. The push-pull operating on the lad is rendered palpable throughout.
Act two is largely devoted to Claude’s pot-induced hallucination, in which a stinging lampoon of Establishment mythology culminates in visions of massacre and the haunting “3-5-0-0.” While most Claudes indulge in random writhing, Barry finds specific moments to expose the boy’s torment and reveal the reasons for his ultimate choice. This “Hair” is more unified, and ends with even more poignancy, than the original four decades ago.
Johanna Unger’s thoughtful take on college protestor Sheila invests “Easy to Be Hard” with an especially bitter edge, and Trance Thompson personifies ease and economy in his watchable Hud (but watch quickly, because Ragni and Rado give Hud criminally little to do).
As Tribe leader and lead comic Berger, Lee Ferris substitutes obnoxiousness for charm and seems to have a decade on the others. A Berger who builds his effects through force rather than finesse wears out his welcome long before intermission.
Long on energy if short on technique, cast could be grungier but their mutual affection seems genuine, and they sing up a storm accompanied by Christian Nesmith’s sizzling ensemble of three. But what’s with the unison choreography? It’s bizarre that a show celebrating doing one’s own thing keeps forcing the Tribe to do the choreographer’s thing, in routines more often evoking aerobics or Busby Berkeley than individuals’ free expression. Surely, in the Age of Aquarius, “no more falsehood or derision” should be a goal of the dancing as well.