Placing 1968’s “Hair” in the cavernous Hollywood Bowl poses a trap. A flamboyant celebration of Aquarius, even at this 50-year remove, couldn’t be easier, but emotionality is diminished when the flower children aren’t climbing into your lap. Still, an energetic troupe led by Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars,” “Frozen”) does well by Galt Macdermot’s muscular melodies, and the three-night engagement showcases some fine young talent on the verge of breakout, and I don’t mean complexion.
Helmer/choreographer Adam Shankman, of “Hairspray” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” picks up the challenge: “So You Think You Can Recreate the 1960s” with visual flair. Tom Ruzika’s lighting throws a pleasing Peter Max-pop art-psychedelic wash across the Bowl’s facade, and costume designer Rita Ryack’s shopping spree surely left every Melrose thrift shop empty. Bewigged or not, tresses are flowing, showing and growing everywhere.
What’s slighted is context. LBJ and Vietnam are barely visible, and the fear and excitement of burning one’s draft card are lost in a sloppy Be-In, culminating in partial nudity executed dutifully but without passion.
As go-go dancers scamper (assisted by Zach Woodlee) across Joe Celli’s tie-dye scaffolding, they convey no sense of outsiders on a collision course with the Establishment. This is the ’60s vision you’d get if you spent the decade watching nothing but “Laugh-In” and “Shindig.”
The personal story takes up time without weight. Bell has a sweet belt on “Easy To Be Hard,” but can’t get her talents around fierce Sheila, the student protester sexually involved with both sensitive Claude (Hunter Parrish of “Weeds”) and charismatic Berger (Benjamin Walker of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer,” still one good role away from megastardom).
With this “Hair,” you take your pleasures where you can find them. Beverly D’Angelo, the Sheila of 1979’s movie version, brings nostalgia, and Kevin Chamberlin a touch of authentic Broadway, to Claude’s parents. Once Parrish abandons woozy vacancy to set Claude on his identity quest, he’s quite powerful.
Walker effortlessly wields the swaggering authority of a tribe leader — at 33 hippies, make that a platoon — among whom pepper pot Amber Riley of “Glee” stands out with, well, glee. A glorious Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”) renders “Frank Mills” with all the poignancy of the great Shelley Plimpton so long ago. As Hud, R&B king Mario is given a little more to do than usual, but is still criminally underused.
Lon Hoyt’s handling of the orchestra and of Macdermot’s complex musical modes is masterful, and it all comes together in the antiwar finale. Wheeling in a corpse proves an unfortunate idea: Given the width of the stage, it has to move more like banquet cart than catafalque. But the cast sells “Let the Sunshine In” with all the earnest conviction they’ve been holding in reserve. All they are saying is give peace a chance, but it resonates.