This year marks the 40th anniversary of the world premiere of Hair at New York’s Public Theater. And Geek Out is celebrating because this weekend the Public is doing special anniversary concert stagings of the musical at its theater is Central Park. (I’m sad I’m not going to one of these performances; I just can’t face taking the time to deal with the line to get the free tickets.)
I suspect most everyone has heard at least one song from Hair since it spawned classics like “Aquarius,” “Easy to be Hard” and “Let the Sun Shine In” (in fact, it’s hard to miss that song these days since it’s used in an ad for Kia automobiles). Hair has been a movie and the stage show seems to get performed often. Since we’ve lived in New York there has been at least three major stagings: 1) a stint at City Center in its Encores series (which tried to make the leap to Broadway, but failed), 2) a concert performance for the Actor’s Fund (which spawned a new CD with some great performances, including Jennifer Hudson singing “Easy to be Hard”) and now 3) this weekend’s performances in the Park.
I discovered Hair back in the early 80s when the 1979 Milos Forman film was on Showtime. I fell for the music and picked up the Broadway cast recording soon after. It wasn’t until I was in college, about 10 years later, that I finally saw the play. The play and the movie are two very different things, even though the basic plot remains the same (hippies, Vietnam War, drugs, etc). The movie starts to deal with class issues and turns all the character relationships inside out. Where the play has everyone as friends from start; in the film Claude comes to New York from Oklahoma just as he’s about to be drafted and he meets everyone else. You really have to take the two works as separate because the plots take such differing paths (down to the fact that different characters die in the end). However, both are good entertainments.
In the end, the stage show moves me more than the film does. There’s too much about the film that just kinda kooky. The stage version has some real emotional power as Claude decides that he is going to go to Vietnam, even though is friends are willing to go to great lengths to keep him home. Claude pays the ultimate price for sticking to his convictions, which builds to an emotional climax with “The Flesh Failures/Let the Sun Shine In” which takes you from the sadness of his death to the hope that the future can be better. If you can ever catch the stage version, I highly recommend it.
Here’s a good contrast to the different tones of the stage and movie versions. First up is the cast of Hair performing “Aquarius” on The Smothers Brothers show.
Next, here’s the same song from the movie. One of the great things the movie has going for it is choreography from Twyla Tharp and this scene shows that off well.