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Sunshine Supermen

Hair retains its wispy elation on Broadway. Plus, An Oresteia’s beautiful marathon of blood.

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Illustration by Jason Gnewikow  

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair! There’s no shortage of the stuff in the joyous revival of the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, currently sending enthusiastic crowds to the moon (in the Seventh House) at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. For the most part, Hair has made the transfer from Central Park with its high spirits intact. But during the famous mass-nudity moment, my companion noticed a lack of hair that helped crystallize what feels just a little off-kilter about this production: “I didn’t think,” she whispered, “that hippies had Brazilians.”

Yeah, it’s skeezy to judge a musical by its pubic hair. But those cultivated landing strips are emblematic of Hair’s improbably gorgeous, irrepressibly sunshiny cast. The hairless armpits and pecs; the gym-toned six-packs diving into low-rise jeans; the highly polished smiles; the high notes bursting with melisma: All are reminders that this time around, the hippies are being played by ambitious actors and singers, some of whom are wearing shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen wigs.

I don’t mean to suggest that Hair’s bouncy young cast members are insincere; everything about their wide-eyed performances suggests they’ve bought into the show’s vibe in a big way. But though the cast’s astrology-larded Playbill bios are cheerfully slapdash, more than one makes room for personal-website URLs. And while the original Broadway cast of Hair, back in 1968, had its share of would-be pros (over its four-year run, the show featured Diane Keaton, Ben Vereen, and Keith Carradine), it also made room for Shelley Plimpton, Martha’s mom, famously recruited from the street to play the wistful Crissy. By comparison, in 2009, Crissy is played by Allison Case, fresh from Mamma Mia!

That Case is delightful—that they’re pretty much all delightful—is why the show is so potent. With 40 songs, many of them disposable, and a wafer-thin book, Hair is a revue, not a musical. But director Diane Paulus smartly deploys her exuberant cast all over the Hirschfeld. Oh yes, be warned: Anyone who, like me, nodded in agreement with the recent Onion article “Oh No, Performers Coming Into Audience” would be well advised to avoid sitting on the aisle, where you’re sure to have your tie loosened, your hair mussed, and your lap sat upon by members of the Tribe—chiefly by impish, charismatic Will Swenson, as tribal ringmaster Berger. Other standouts include the fierce Sasha Allen, who belts the hell out of “Aquarius” and “White Boys,” Andrew Kober as a hausfrau who gaily encounters the counterculture (“Oh, Hubert,” she cries to her husband upon meeting the hippies, “a whole haggle of hippi!”), and lanky, adorable Bryce Ryness as the Mick Jagger–idolizing Woof.

Hair was never meant to be a sixties documentary. Back then, it rendered hippi safe for the Establishment to enjoy; these days, based on audience response, it’s a gift to enthusiastic Boomers and their curious children, who dance onstage with abandon during the curtain call. Those in the middle will be lulled by the happy groove, the groovy bods, and the beat. Drop in, tune out, turn on. –D.K.

Something bloody beautiful is going on over at Classic Stage, under the poker-faced, take-it-or-leave-it title An Oresteia. You should take it. Poet-classicist Anne Carson, a pedigreed academic with a barroom wit, has produced crisp, insouciant new translations of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’s Elektra, and Euripides’s Orestes, where relaxed-fit colloquialisms hang smartly on all that fine old marble. (Remembering his dead brothers, unwittingly cannibalized by their father, a character bawls, “That meal ruined our family!”) Carson’s not afraid to hock a B-movie loogie on the Venus de Milo, if need be. Directors Brian Kulick, Gisela Cardenas, Paul Lazar, and Annie-B Parson (who choreographs Orestes) have divided the poet’s feast into two nights of blood-pounding theater. (To get the full effect—the distressingly natural transition from tragedy to satire—I highly recommend the four-and-a-half-hour marathon performances of all three plays.) We hop from abomination to abomination with the haplessly vengeance-obsessed House of Atreus—bodies piling up, blood guttering down the plywood walls of Riccardo Hernandez’s pugnaciously fugly set—as the playmakers and Carson restore the danger and madness that’s too often starched out of statelier productions. Flawlessly staged, impudent to the last, An Oresteia is the Oresteia for this moment: enraged, engorged, amused.

The body count is just as high over at Happiness, a new musical from Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, the composer-lyricist team behind Grey Gardens, and book-writer John Weidman (Assassins). But luckily, death turns out to be nothing but a train delay. Weidman has paired with his old Contact collaborator, director-choreographer Susan Stroman, who’s confected some poppin’ dance numbers to round out this gorgeously realized yet soul-crushingly stupid fable about mortality: A Hummel set of recently deceased New York stereotypes find themselves in a stalled subway car, where a conductor (Hunter Foster, his hepcat-hobbit energy in overdrive) instructs each to pick a “perfect moment” in which to dwell forever. Eternity amounts to filling out a Facebook profile we can never alter, and most of these ghostly tropes (gay decorator, right-wing pundit, earthy Latino bike-messenger) seem creepily at peace with that. Frankel and Korie do their damnedest—“Best Seats in the Ballpark” is a square but effective tearjerker—but this show is congenitally banal. –S.B.

Hair
Book by James Rado and Gerome Ragni.
Music by Galt MacDermot.
Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

An Oresteia
Translated by Anne Carson.
Classic Stage Company.
Through April 19.

Happiness
Book by John Weidman.
Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie.
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
Through June 7.


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