November 3, 2010 | by David J. Hoffman
‘Hair’ heralds ‘new’ age

The cast of the 'Hair' revival being staged now at the Kennedy Center. Along with the usual counterculture ideals, the era depicted represented a new comfort level with same-sex dabblings and gays in general. (Photo by Joan Markus; courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

‘Hair’

Kennedy Center

2700 F St. N.W.

Through Nov. 21

The dawning of the “Age of Aquarius” — what a concept. Especially when considered through the 2010 prism of jaded cynicism.

Even if the notion that “peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars” is greeted only with smirks, the 40-year-old music of “Hair,” whose latest incarnation opened at the Kennedy Center last week and plays there through Nov. 21, still has the power to rock your world with its breezy, catchy score.

You will remember several of the songs and you will want to be dancing — at the end of the show audience members are encouraged to dance with the cast on stage.

“Hair” is the story of a group of political, long-haired hippies in the late ’60s living a bohemian life in New York and opposing the Vietnam War. Claude (Paris Remillard), a pensive romantic and gentle soul, and his friend Berger (Steel Burkhardt), a boisterous and irreverent extrovert, along with their roommate Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett), struggle along with their friends to balance their lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war, their conservative parents and society in general. The relatively simple story centers around Claude’s conflict over whether to resist the draft as several of his friends have done or to compromise his principles and risk life and limb in Vietnam.

The “hair” of the title refers to the then-common long-locked statement that societal norms could and should be broken. Long hair, especially on men, became a counterculture symbol and is celebrated famously in a great litany from the title song— “hair long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, natty, oily, greasy, fleecy, twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered, bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied.”

It opened off-Broadway in 1967 and on the Great White Way six months later where it ran four years. Several revivals followed and it was adapted for film. The latest Broadway revival — which spawned this current touring company — won a Tony last year for “best revival.” It’s widely acknowledged as a major game changer for musicals as its songs, several of which were pop radio hits, are in the rock idiom, shunning the show tune, Rodgers-and-Hammerstein-type musical fare that preceded it.  The score has become the most-performed ever written for the Broadway stage.

The themes — sexual freedom, drug use, pacifism and the environment — were shocking to many and struck an immediate chord while a few gay themes also pushed the envelope. A three-way embrace between Claude, Berger and Sheila turns into a Claude-Berger kiss demonstrating in that Stonewall era that new attitudes about gays were emerging along with the other counterculture ideals.

Another “Hair” character Woof (Matt DeAngelis) wants to love everybody and has a solo called “Sodomy” in which he urges everyone to “join the holy orgy Kama Sutra.” He makes a not-so-convincing fuss about not being gay but openly declares he wants to “go to bed with Mick Jagger.” The 25-year-old DeAngelis has natural charm, a sweet voice and is a standout in the cast.

Also noteworthy are Remillard, Burkhardt and Tackett who shine in the lead roles. There’s also a seriocomic character called Margaret Mead, who represents the older generation. Played here by Josh Limon, the character manages to elicit a shock when her coat is opened and it’s revealed she’s a man in drag.

The musical, by now a period piece, feels, at times, curiously out of key today. And it’s an ironic fit for the Kennedy Center considering its writers’ rejection of Camelot-era ideals, much less in the landscape of our own winter of political discontent.

But “Hair” ultimately is both a tragedy and a celebration and there’s some insight to be had watching it through 2010 eyes where we can see both its innocent optimism but also recognize the risks and failures its generation took.

And it’s also a fun ride. For the two-and-a-half hours you spend with it, be prepared to lose your inhibitions in a time machine.

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