Just to dispel the myth that all critics are stick-up-the-ass prigs, I boogied my ass on stage at the finale of Hair with the rest of the patrons. But after making my unofficial Broadway debut on the Al Hirschfeld Theatre stage, it was firmly decided that being in the audience is the best way to experience director Diane Paulus’s celebrated revival. So on to the burning question: How’s it holding up? Well, one certainly misses its original leads (the charismatic, golden-voiced duo of Gavin Creel and Will Swenson), and I don’t remember it being so insanely over-miked as to swallow up the performers’ vocal acrobatics, but Paulus’s unshakable, moving vision of hippiedom as a holding pattern for the young characters’ slow ascent (or descent?) into adulthood is so pristinely omnipresent, watching it unfold remains quite a journey.
Still buoyed by Kevin Adams’s thrilling light trips and the smashing Gerome Ragni/James Rado/Galt MacDermot score, Hair is an awfully hard show to completely muck up. Yes, the hobbling book remains a bit of an issue, and its central characters—including randy fuck-up Berger (Ace Young), cautious, angelic Claude (Kyle Riabko), and politically active, headstrong Sheila (Diana DeGarmo)—sometimes come off as archetypes of an era versus lived-in people. But when a new cast takes over, sometimes you get the benefit of seeing some of its inhabitants anew, and this cast has some choice supporting players. I never thought the moony, pregnant Jeanie was much of a presence before, but Annaleigh Ashford’s sweet, self-aware take on her is surprisingly weighty, and the bit in which the Tribe encounters a hokey older couple can be too arch, but not now with Josh Lamon’s engagingly funny turn as the female half, and he’s equally as impressive as Claude’s dad—a role usually played as an uptight dolt, but now with a layer of attitude that makes it pop. And DeGarmo, while shaky as a dramatic actress, absolutely nails it vocally on her two big numbers (“Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine”).
Riabko and Young are more age-appropriate than their predecessors (Swenson was well in his 30s playing a college kid), and have lots of puppyish appeal, but lack the combined spark of their forebearers, not to mention their innate yet innocuous sexual chemistry. Riabko’s boyish presence, though, is aptly used for the shattering finale (still a heartbreaker), and during the second-act hallucination sequence (a tricky, lengthy series of scenes that Paulus found blessed ways to dramatize), he comes into his own. Young works damn hard, and let’s face facts: the dude is a walking Adonis. Vocally, though, he often seems to be straining to keep up, and he could take the flopping and jerking down more than a tad and he’d be twice as effective.
Oddly, these quibbles don’t detract much from the spirit of the production as Hair’s Tribe marches on with new members (and I suppose a pun is intended there, given the much-ballyhooed cast stripdown at the end of act one). To paraphrase possibly its greatest tune: It’s still got life, brother.
Hair is now playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (302 West 45th St.) in New York City and is an open-ended run. Schedule: Tue at 7pm, Wed-Sat at 8pm, Wed & Sat at 2pm, Sun at 3pm. Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, one intermission.