Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not one Bad Follicle

Great Energy and a sense of anticipation are palpable at the Al Hirschfield Theatre where HAIR is playing, almost as if the audience knew in advance that finally, something is going to be as great as the reviews. When the lights started to go down there was an audible intake of breath, and applause: they couldn’t wait, and the excitement was justified. I am probably the only one of my generation who never saw it, or the movie, and knew only the most celebrated songs in its score(“Age of Aquarius,””Easy to be Hard,””Let the Sun Shine In.”) I was writing novels and taking care of babies, so the obscenity of Vietnam never surfaced on my spiritual radar until Lyndon Johnson announced he would not accept or seek, etc. But there was a woman I met at intermission who had wept all during the first act, because her high school class in East Los Angeles didn’t have the connections or the money to avoid the draft, and she didn’t know how many of them had probably died. I didn’t start crying until the second act, when the full power of this musical hit me. For the first half, I just rollicked in the talent and the visible joy of the performers.
The show—and a true show it is, lights and color and costumes and nudity coalescing into an almost dream state, except that everyone and everything is so alive it could only be lucid dreaming—is the most exciting I’ve seen since moving back to New York. For me it was less a revival than a Revival Meeting, everyone, cast and audience alike, got so completely into the spirit, it made me believe. I was in a particularly lucky location, so got kissed, hugged, and my hair played with by members of the cast who come barreling down the aisle as though carrying good news. They are beautiful, gifted, generous and funny, and those among them playing contrarians and stiffs are just as spontaneously funny—when the disapproving very middle class couple went to leave the theatre, the wife(in drag) muttered “Let’s go see ‘West Side Story’,” to bleats of laughter on the part of those who heard(and apparently had seen ‘West Side Story.’)
Will Swenson is more than winning and likeable in the key role of Berger, inoffensive for all he does of a seemingly offensive nature, and endearing when he interacts with the audience(was that really his Mom in the front row?) Bryce Ryness is funny and touching as Woof(twas he who toyed with my hair, and bent down to let me play with his) Gavin Creel is bright and ultimately deeply moving as Claude, who ends up the shorn victim of that war. Cassie Levy is the most visibly vulnerable of the universally pretty and gifted women, and Saycon Sengbloh, a substitute Dionne in the performance I attended has a presence and a voice that could blow you out of the theatre, if it wasn’t so much better being able to stay. When the understudies are that good, you can’t make a mistake to go go go. Loved it loved it loved it. The youthful exuberance and happiness of all involved—not the least the band who can be observed having a great time while playing, makes the point of how much is lost in a war, and the pointlessness of the whole terrible exercise. Up to the minute, really, revival or no. Hurry Hurry hurry, though it’s due to be there through November. Long, even longer may it wave.