The Age of Aquarius dawns again in revival of countercultuure musical 'HAIR' Gray, but still firmly rooted

February 20, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Forget about "down-to-there hair, shoulder length or longer, . . . long as God can grow it, . . . knotted, polka-dotted, twisted, beaded, braided."

Think gray.

The two surviving creators of the ground-breaking 1968 musical, "Hair," may now have graying hair, but it doesn't matter because, to quote an even older lyric, "everything old is new again."

So whether or not the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars, "Hair," that once-daring, counterculture musical darling, will launch a $1 million national tour at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre on Tuesday.

The production is billed as "the 25th Anniversary Celebration," although that alone may not seem reason enough to revive the show -- especially since it is closer to 26 years old.

Also, other anniversary revivals of "Hair" haven't done that well. The original production ran more than four years and generated seven U.S. road companies, but the 10th-anniversary Broadway revival closed after a month. And none of the various 20th-anniversary revivals attracted major attention -- not even an AIDS benefit mounted at the United Nations and featuring 200 "Hair" alumni.

Furthermore, another silver-anniversary revival was mounted six months ago. That short-lived London production, with a $3.08 million budget, was the costliest "Hair" loss yet.

There is one long-running exception to these bleak statistics. For more than a decade, a revival described by co-librettist James Rado as "the most untalked about production of 'Hair,' " has been touring Europe. ("Hair's" other librettist, Gerome Ragni, died of cancer in 1991.)

Rado, who was also an actor in the original Broadway company, has been directing the European production for the past three years. He's been casting it in New York with young, long-haired, unknown actors -- essentially the same tactic taken the first time around (a few of those unknowns, such as Diane Keaton and Melba Moore, went on to become stars).

Enter producer Jon B. Platt, a former Baltimorean who saw the European production in Amsterdam last spring "for a lark, and fell in love with it."

Platt is convinced "Hair's" time has come again.

"Just walking down the street and seeing the '60s influence -- the bell-bottoms, tie dyes, the longer hair, the freedom in the way people look," Platt says. "Many of the bands that are contemporary have been drawing on '60s feelings. The entire grunge phenomenon, with bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, they're absolutely rooted in 'Hair.' "

Rado, a University of Maryland graduate who speaks in a free-flowing, '60s-ish style, views the show's timeliness in broader terms. "So much of what was discovered or manifested then has become part of our culture," he says, referring to everything from the peace movement to "living in harmony with the earth" and "global connections between all people."

In contrast, "Hair's" composer, Galt MacDermot, is less comfortable talking about social trends. This is not exactly surprising considering that when the show was new, the conservative-looking Canadian native was the only non-hippie on the creative team.

MacDermot concedes, however, that one reason for the European touring production's success is its "very contemporary feeling." The team is attempting to reproduce that feel in the new revival.

"I think this one is truer to the spirit of the show. The English version was an attempt to make a serious protest against war, and it got heavy-handed," he says. "It didn't have the humor or the fun that the original 'Hair' had."

The new production will include a few changes -- although the famous, formerly controversial nude scene will be presented in what Rado reverently describes as "the classic way" -- in half light at the end of the first act. (Keep in mind that this assurance comes from a man who, along with co-author and co-star Ragni, was barred from productions on both coasts for walking down the aisle naked during intermission in "Hair's" heyday. "We thought it was kind of fun," he recalls.)

In addition to such former Top 10 hits as "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine" and "Let the Sun Shine In," the production will feature three new songs: "How I Love My Hippie Life," "The War" and "Give Up All Desires." "Hippie Life," described by Rado as a Native-American number, was written for -- and cut from -- director Milos Forman's 1979 movie.

Another change is that the revival will have even less plot than the original, which was often described as "bookless." What little plot there is will still concern a tribe of hippies, one of whom is trying to decide whether to burn his draft card or fight in Vietnam.

"A tremendous amount of book scenes have been cut just because reading them, they really were rooted in the period and don't make sense today," says producer Platt. "Book scenes have been cut and music is more plentiful.

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