There's an unjust war, racial tension, gender inequities and ecological problems. Forty years ago, America was humming the same tune. So much for progress, right? Well, despite the correlations that can be drawn from 2008 to 1968, in the current production of "Hair" now playing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, director Diane Paulus has stated she didn't want the play to be transposed or translated for today's audience; "Hair", headlined by Spring Awakening star (and hottie) Jonathan Groff retains almost every touch of what the audience in the Biltmore Theater saw so many years ago. Ontologically speaking (if one can speak ontologically concerning a piece of theater) the musical itself is now a period piece, even though it was once very contemporary work. But even with the displacement of time, "Hair" still has the ability to touch the audience (literally, in some cases) while staying true to its roots.
Since he is no stranger to unconventional rock-based musicals, Jonathan Groff seamlessly presents himself as Claude Hooper Bukowski, the 1960's answer to both Hamlet and Jesus Christ. It's all too often these days that performers, especially young ones, on the great white way just have "good" voices, and virtually no acting skills, so it was quite refreshing to see Mr. Groff successfully play the part in addition to belting out the music. It can be argued, though, that since the musical is basically a melange of song, dance, music, story, interaction, protest, message, culture, drugs and sex, character development isn't all that apparent or important. And that's true. For the most part and with most characters (like Dionne), nothing really changes or happens. But not with Claude. Indecisive, sacrificial, idealistic and with the tinge of inwardness, he can be plucked out as both the protagonist and the most successful part in the play. From his forceful utterance of the perceptive "I am Aquarius--destined for greatness or madness" to the waning of his final line "That's me", Groff brings you on a trip through the human psyche with Claude, ending quite finally. Of course, a lot of this is more appropriately attributed to James Rado and Gerome Ragni, not to mention Galt Macdermot (who is actually on keyboards in this production) but Groff does his share. Quite convincingly.
As for the rest of the cast, while "modern" youth cannot be completely taken out of the "modern" world, they do as well as they can to properly portray young flower children. And, in most cases, that is quite well. The girls are braless and unmade, as per Paulus' request, the boys are unshaven and wig-donned, and, in fact, everyone's voices are not as polished as one would expect. Of course that is meant to be taken as a compliment, as it adds a sense of realism to the show to have a few cracks and squeaks. Will Swenson and Patina Renae Miller of are particular mention.
Paulus does an exceptionally good job of directing, from staying true to old standards (such as Berger melding the lyrics "my" and "donna" together to imply the Virgin Mary) to implanting some new ones (from what I can gather, at least) such as the tribe jumping down and crawling over the backdrop of the stage. She made the play intimate and relatable while still letting it keep its necessary distance, both for the illusory importance of storytelling and inevitable time period representation.
It should also be noted that the Delacorte would appear to be the most appropriate setting for this of all musicals. The outdoor environment not only lends itself to the ideals of the hippie subculture, planting you right back into nature, but the size and setup (a theater in the quasi-round) allows the cast to interact easily with the audience. When Woof requests we "Look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon" we, the audience, are able to do just that.
After viewing the 40th anniversary concert performance last September, I was happily pleased this time around. Perhaps we cannot go back in time, but we can still experience parts of it.
With Ato Blankson-Wood, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Allison Case, Lauren Elder, Jonathan Groff, Allison Guinn, Anthony Hollock, Kaitlin Kiyan, Andrew Kober, Megan Lawrence, Nicole Lewis, Caren Lyn Manuel, Patina Renea Miller, John Moauro, Darius Nichols, Brandon Pearson, Megan Reinking, Paris Remillard, Bryce Ryness, Saycon Sengbloh, Maya Sharpe, Kacie Sheik, Theo Stockman, Will Swenson, and Tommar Wilson.