The stars didn’t permit a full-scale professional revival of “Hair” to appear for 40 years, not until Jupiter aligned with Mars (and helmer Diane Paulus) to assemble just the right talent pool to reinvent the original “American tribal love-rock musical” for a new era. This Tony-winning revival — on tour with a cast every bit as strong as the originals of 1968 and 2009 — gets “Hair” right where so many productions get it wrong. The new year is only a week old, but 2011 will have to go some to offer up a more exuberant piece of entertainment.
There’s no stinting on the bells and whistles: the earnest, playful movement across the stage and out into the house; Kevin Adams’ endlessly roaming lights turning Scott Pask’s psychedelic set into a Peter Max poster come to life; and Galt MacDermot’s muscular, melodic score, reorchestrated by the composer with ramped-up percussion to drum up the rough modern equivalent of Vietnam-era passion. The delights of a “hippie revue,” largely how the groundbreaking show was received in the late 1960s, remain present in the Pantages auditorium.
For all that, Paulus achieves coherence by never losing sight of the human drama. She carefully charts the interplay of yearning and defiance among the self-styled tribe of Lower East Side squatters, presented without condescension or (even worse) idealization. And central focus is always placed on the seriocomic plight of Claude Hooper Bukowski (the dazzling Paris Remillard). An ordinary kid about to be drafted, Claude typifies that era’s youth, torn between society’s expectations and the tempting but undefined promise of Aquarius.
Remillard’s charisma and fundamental decency prove essential components of an intimate spectacle capable of rousing your spirit and breaking your heart, in turn. So are the contributions of Kacie Sheik’s Jeanie, both dreamy and worldly-wise; Caren Lyn Tackett’s nail-hard activist Sheila; and the one-two punch of sweet and sour, Matt DeAngelis’ Woof and Darius Nichols’ Hud.
For once, tribal leader Berger (Steel Burkhardt) isn’t an obnoxious, preening buffoon dragging down the proceedings, drawing us in instead with wonder and vulnerability.
Even the most tiresome trope — the crossdressing Mom, instituted by original helmer Tom O’Horgan and heavy-handed ever since — is given new life through Josh Lamon’s artful, droll Dame Edna take on the campy material.
Karole Armitage finds an ideal choreographic balance between the impression of unrehearsed street dance and the practiced Broadway zing of numbers like “White Boys/Black Boys” and the titular anthem. Kudos, too, to Acme Sound Partners for rendering intelligible Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s naive yet canny lyrics under the most deafening circumstances.