A GROUP of Harvard students revived the Sixties rock-revue Hair this year, and even people in the cast agreed that it was a flop. Staged at the Institute of Politics Forum, the show featured a soupedup title--Hair for the Eighties--and a totally rewritten script to match. Nukes and social spending cuts replaced free love and Vietnam as the subjects of song and dance, but no perceptible effort was made to explain the changes of the past 15 years or the wilting of the flower power generation.
Hair is back in town this summer, for what our statistician calculates is the 14.396th undergraduate production of the musical (third place behind West Side Story and Pajama Game). Surprisingly, the show works for the most part because its producer-directors reject the temptation to noodle with the original.
They present a period piece with considerable skill and overwhelming enthusiasm. By show's end last Saturday night, half of the Hasty Pudding Club audience was on stage boogying with the cast to "Let the Sunshine In." The Revolution was not rekindled, but everyone knew the words.
The musical arrived in Cambridge under some rather unusual circumstances. An independent ensemble of Brown students first mounted the show at home in Providence earlier this year. They received rave reviews, extended their on-campus run, and then got a donation from an anonymous fan who wanted to send the production to the Boston area. The whole "tribe," as they refer to themselves on stage, gathered at the Pudding in June and hurriedly polished the act before last week's opening.
The tribesters brag in their promo literature that by living communally in Somerville, while working to revive the spirit of an earlier era they "are a lesson not only in ensemble performing but also in cohabitation." The sheer energy of the show indicates that they have worked hard to merge their personalities and lifestyles with those of the characters they play--a 24-hour-a-day pysche-up technique. And because they generally succeed, one is tempted to forgive their self-conscious stab at hippydom, as well as the program notes urging the audience to "stand up and join in confronting [the show's] issues, which have taken fresh meaning in recent months."
"SOMETHING HAPPENED to me yesterday: what it was. I really cannot say," sang the Rolling Stones in 1966. Critics later determined that the pleasant-sounding ditty referred to the Stones' first LSD trip and to the type of revelation that inspired kids to grow their hair long, curse their parents and sleep five to a bed. Hair is about whatever happened to the Stones and everyone else. It's a series of vigorous pop numbers and bittersweet comedy schticks covering the familiar themes of the decade before last. When it opened 14 years ago on Broadway. It shocked and delighted, drawing nationwide attention for its frank treatment of racial tension and a brief nude scene that closes the first act. Boston authorities tried unsuccessfully to ban Hair in 1970, by which time it was being performed all over the world.
Brown recreators David Yazbeck and Shaun Clark have preserved almost everything. Yes, including a new interpretation of the nude scene. From what's visible through a haze of red floodlights, everyone seems-to shake it quite confidently. The more demanding routines range from passable college-level performances you might encounter on the Dunster House Dining Hall stage to truly inspired renditions from a score which was gutsy and fun to begin with. The 19-member troupe does far better as a whole pushing the decibel level to something just short of a primal scream than do any of the principals, some of whom seem completely inexperienced as vocalists. Of the main players, Calvin Wolk, as Berger, the macho ring leader, and Jeff Bercuvitz, as Claude, the occasionally ambivalent side kick, project the message of rejectionism and individuality most effectively. Larnett Son also belts out several impressive leads, including a soulful version of "Abie Baby," a cynical tribute to the author of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In addition to producing, directing and arranging. Yazbeck plays electric piano and takes charge of an on-stage band perched precariously above the other performers on a scaffolding backdrop. Like the set, the music is spare and appropriate, never overpowering the swirl of denim, bandanas and flesh down in front.
The multi-talented Yazbeck probably should have figured out the choreography by himself as well. Credited to "the cast," the dance arrangements are sloppy and amateurish. Only about half of the ensemble demonstrates any real feel for the rhythm, and the rest make do with what they remember from high school hops. Worst of all, everyone keeps spilling into the audience to distribute flowers and fake LSD tabs. Yazbeck and Co. should worry less about drawing people into the action and more about the human demolition derby taking place back on the stage.
Superior even to the best of the group musical numbers are the near-slapstick comedy routines, especially those revolving around Steve Hill. Jon Linden and Richard Topol. Hill, equipped with one of the biggest, ugliest afros you're likely to encounter in the Square this summer, plays Bert Parks in a needle-sharp spoof of the Miss America pageant. The parody climaxes with the funky "Black Boys/White Boys," which addresses the sublime pleasures of interracial intercourse. Unfortunately, most of the narrative bits do not mesh as well with the musical portion of the show. Yazbeck and Clarks have let one aspect of the original production slip through their fingers, and that's the scanty story line designed to give the whole business some semblance of order.
IT becomes apparent, vaguely, that the action consists of Claude's dilemma over what to do about getting drafted while various other characters worry about getting laid. But the dialogue is so sparse and cryptic that it's not clear until the final scene that Claude had been torn all along between conforming and resisting, rather than merely trying to decide how best to evade Uncle Sam. When he marches off to Southeast Asia, presumably to die for an empty cause, confusion overshadows the intended irony. Lost also are the characterizations of several of the more prominent female roles, especially those played by Andrea Trisciuzzi and Jennifer Van Dyck.
This shortcoming will probably disappoint those who see Hair hoping for a jolting dose of Sixties political fervor. Except for an introductory audio-visual mood-setter, the political radicalism remains muddled throughout the show and seems severely dated when it does emerge briefly. The "don't-draft-my-ass" response to corrupt foreign policy is no longer fitting or sufficient; we already know America hasn't always worn the white hat. Likewise, the drive for uniform civil rights has gone beyond merely pointing out that Blacks exist and have concerns and emotions of their own.
In short, the visitors from Brown miss the mark on their exhortation to stand up and fight the old fights, but at the same time' they bring off a generally enjoyable evening of sweaty frivolity. Let Hair be Hair and dig it for what it was.