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Hair (#110 of 4)

On the Twentieth Century Interview with Peter Gallagher

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On the Twentieth Century Interview with Peter Gallagher

Joan Marcus

On the Twentieth Century Interview with Peter Gallagher

Peter Gallagher and On the Twentieth Century each made their Broadway debuts during the same 1977 to ’78 season. Since then, the musical has rarely been seen, but the actor has had one of those rare careers in which he’s perpetually popped up in most every performance medium and genre without wearing out his welcome or curdling into type. On Broadway, he’s run the gamut from Hair, in which he made that debut in the love-rock musical’s short-lived first revival, to the tragic Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey, to the golden-age musical Guys and Dolls with Nathan Lane. He’s played key roles, usually as a slickster, in films that helped define their times, like Sex, Lies, and Videotape and The Player. On television, Gallagher has matured into authority figures—mostly trustworthy, sometimes not—on such series as The O.C. and Togetherness. He’s even put out an album, 7 Days in Memphis, and toured the country with a cabaret act peppered, like his conversation, with spot-on impersonations of the many legends he’s known.

Climb on Board: Pippin at the Music Box Theatre

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Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre
Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be a sucker. Step right up to Pippin, the greatest homegrown show of the season. It even has a puppy. This eye- and pelvis-poppin’ extravaganza seems willing to stop at nothing to make us ooh and aww. But miraculously, it never stoops. Instead, most of its nonstop thrills, chills, and threat of spills fly as high as the tip of its big-top tent. Yes, director Diane Paulus has traded out the original’s trope of an itinerant commedia dell’arte band of players for a troop of traveling cirque performers. And the dazzlingly executed change gives the Broadway revival, its first, a leg up facing down its biggest threat: the looming shadow of Bob Fosse.

The legendary director-choreographer won two Tonys for the first production and was roundly credited for its blockbuster success. Without his hands-on involvement, such as a later tour with Chita Rivera and returning star Ben Vereen, much of the magic was gone. Subsequent reimaginings in London (with a video-game concept) and in regional and community theaters have usually failed, giving the material a reputation as a relic tied to an era and a genius long since passed. But Paulus, of the recent Tony Award-winning revivals of Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, has come to the rescue. Her Pippin moves as fast and forcefully as if it were shot out of a cannon.

One Year Revisited: Hair on Broadway

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One Year Revisited: <em>Hair</em> on Broadway
One Year Revisited: <em>Hair</em> on Broadway

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”).