Many of us who loved Hair last summer at the Public's Delacorte Theatre in Central Park feared that some of the magic would be lost when the production moved to Broadway. The loss of some cast members, including Jonathan Groff and Patina Renea Miller, didn't bode well either. The great news is that Diane Paulus' staging of the Vietnam-era classic is just as vibrant, exhilarating, freewheeling, and powerful indoors as it was outdoors.
The pioneering rock musical hasn't lost its appeal after more than 40 years largely because of its remarkably varied and still invigorating songs (music is by Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado). There are too many to mention, but among my favorites are short tunes like "Manchester, England" and "Sheila Franklin," which quickly help define characters while letting the performers show off their vocal pyrotechnics. Of course, the show also boasts energizing ensemble numbers, from the familiar opening anthem "Aquarius" to the optimistic finale "Let the Sun Shine In." The songs have an infectious, driving rock beat, and somehow the score doesn't sound dated despite the pervasive sixties flavor. The music is so enjoyable that it's easy to overlook the literate lyrics, which reference everything from the Yale Whiffenpoofs to Shakespeare.
Ragni and Rado's book doesn't hold up as well as their lyrics, but Paulus' astute direction manages to conceal the thin plot's shortcomings. The broad comedy sketches featuring Claude's parents and a Midwestern couple are now funnier than they were in the park, largely due to Andrew Kober's scene-stealing performance.
One problem with Hair is that Berger, the leader of the free-loving, hash-smoking hippie tribe doesn't have as much to do in the second act as he does in the first. This is particularly noticeable in this production since Will Swenson remains so charismatic, sexy, and fun to watch in the part. Gavin Creel has taken over for Groff as Claude, and he's an excellent choice. His gorgeous voice gets quite a workout during songs like " I Got Life" and "Where Do I Go." Somehow he even sounds terrific when he's rolling around or upside down. Sasha Allen is a worthy replacement for Miller, showing off her stirring voice in "Aquarius" and "White Boys." Caissie Levy , who delivers a knockout rendition of "Easy to Be Hard," is another strong addition to the cast as Sheila. Bryce Ryness still stands out as Mick Jagger-loving Woof, and Allison Case contributes a lovely "Frank Mills" as Crissy.
Karole Armitage's choreography has gotten tighter since last summer without losing its spontaneous, uninhibited feeling. And the band makes MacDermot's dynamite score sound as lively as ever. Because we're still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan Hair remains timely, and the ending still packs a wallop. Thanks to Paulus and her dynamite cast, this shaggy crew should be keeping the spirit of the sixties joyously alive for quite some time.