Friday, February 8, 2008

I believe in Claude

I've rarely felt this excited about a movie or a television program, but I'm pretty much salivating at the thought of seeing Hair this summer in Central Park with Spring Awakening's Jonathan Groff. It runs from July 22-Aug. 17 as part of the free Shakespeare in the Park program.

Groff will be reprising his role as Claude from last summer, when Hair played for three nights in Central Park's Delacorte Theater to commemorate the musical's 40th anniversary. The show premiered at the Public Theater on Oct. 17, 1967, before moving to Broadway's Biltmore Theater on April 29, 1968. The original "tribe" included Diane Keaton, costar of Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time.

I've never seen a show in Central Park, I've never seen a show from the legendary Public Theater, I loved Spring Awakening when I saw it last summer, and for some reason, I've always loved Hair.

Maybe it's my inner flower child speaking, or the fact that although I lived through the 1960s, I was too young to enjoy them. So I've always had to experience the decade vicariously, through music, theater, movies and literature.

I saw a touring production of Hair in Syracuse, N.Y., many years ago, I've seen the movie, I've even been to Manchester, England, and I was excited to be in the very same Biltmore last April, to see LoveMusik. (Ok, maybe LoveMusik wasn't so thrilling, but to be in the same theater where Hair played was a thrill!)

There's some great footage in the series Broadway: The American Musical of Hair on the Great White Way. After seeing the actors coming out into the middle of the startled audience, I decided that if I could go back in time and see one show during its original run, I would choose Hair. It just looked like so much fun.

Sure, the book, by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, about a tribe of hippies living a bohemian life in New York in the 1960s and opposing the war in Vietnam, is hopelessly dated. And long hair isn't exactly a sign of political rebellion anymore. But the songs, with lyrics by Rado and music by Galt McDermot, are terrific. "Aquarius," "Manchester, England," "Hair," "Let the Sunshine In." Need I go on? Here's an interview with McDermot that aired on the American Theatre Wing's Downstage Center program in which he reminisces a little about the show.

I didn't realize this, but Hair was the first off-Broadway show to transfer to Broadway. It seems almost impossible to believe that there was a time when that didn't happen. Now, shows seem to do it routinely. Last year, it was Spring Awakening and Grey Gardens. This year, In the Heights and Passing Strange are making the leap.

It's only fitting that one of the stars of Spring Awakening will be starring in this production of Hair. Like Spring Awakening, Hair has a rock 'n' roll score, a youthful cast and yes, nudity. While those things don't have have the same capacity to shock audiences as they did 40 years ago, I actually think the two shows have the same vitality, the same sense of electricity.

When I saw Spring Awakening in July, I immediately thought, this is what it must have been like to see Hair in the '60s, when it was new and fresh and unlike anything a Broadway audience had seen before.


SarahB said...

Oh, I was so disappointed when I saw the Public's press release for summer 2008 at the Delacourt. I'm just not a fan. I think I was born too late to get into the 60s thing and I was born soon to get into the Spring Awakening thing. Oh well. I'll just have to look forward to 2009.

Esther said...

Well, I admit that a lot of Hair will seem silly and dated. (Like the plot, for example!) But I do love the music. And there's just something so appealing about the idea of sitting outdoors, in the middle of Central Park, on a warm summer night and watching a show. It just seems like one of those classic things to do in New York City!

SarahB said...

Oh, it is one of the most perfect things to do in NYC - get on line by 6:00 am (or earlier!) with your ipod, book and provisions and wait and wait. New Yorkers waiting on line for anything is as natural as a bear in the woods. But the best part is sitting in that wonderful amphitheatre with the backdrop of Central Park trees and the buildings of the upper east side. When we saw Meryl in the first preview of Mother Courage, the full moon was rising. I'll never forget it. In 2004, I saw Sam Waterston in Much Ado About Nothing the Delacourt. Perfection. I might go for Hamlet, but not for Hair. I just don't care enough about it without a stunt cast to go through the process.