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Life Arts

Good 'Hair' Day

By       Message Uzi Silber       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Contemporary family life for us is a dreary cycle consisting largely of reverse commuting, laundry, piano drills, school bus drop-offs and juvenile vegetable refusal. This leaves precious little time for much else, let alone a night out on the town for a pair of beleaguered parents.


But last-minute complimentary orchestra seats to a Broadway play possess a mysterious power to slam the brakes on the familial treadmill and abruptly reshuffle parental priorities. And if such tickets happen to be for a revival of an exciting musical full of shapely naked people belting out great tunes, all the better.


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My wife and I were the lucky recipients of such tickets. Items such as veggies, baths, and timely bedtime once deemed so urgent, magically vanished from our nightly must-do list and were replaced by our severely neglected entertainment needs.


Childfree and tickets in hand, we rode the F train uptown to 42nd street to catch a new musical revival about spoiled and horny hippies singing and copulating in our very backyard. That musical would be Hair.

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As a child in Greenwich Village, I recoiled from the shaggy and malodorous specimens wrapped in dirty shmatehs, tossing Frisbees in Washington Square Park. Yet there I was in the Al Hirschfeld Theater two generations later, enjoying a howling and tousled hippie mob charging off the stage and into the crowd, shattering that famous 'fourth wall' traditionally separating players from audience.


The lead, a Jim Morrison-Abby Hoffman hybrid known as Berger, swings an axe at that fourth wall right from the get-go, as he gamely confronts several unsuspecting individuals in the audience in a yippie-inflected version of a Don Rickles Borscht Belt routine. Berger's opening shtick seamlessly segues into the now immortalized soundtrack that has sold all those millions of copies.


Hair first opened off-Broadway in the fall of 1967 to thoroughly-mixed though intrigued reviews. Such contradictory sentiments were aptly captured at the time by Howard Taubman of the New York Times, who described the performance as an "indiscriminate explosion of exuberant, impertinent youthful talents" where "coherence is lacking, discipline meager and taste often deplorable."

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As it happened, audiences embraced the musical's daring free-form performance style and didn't mind its incoherence. That plot was largely irrelevant here was a point made by a female cast member at a press conference ahead of Hair's 1968 Broadway debut. "Man," said she earnestly, "we're not asking you to follow anything. Just to dig what's going on". Internalizing these instructions, I too stopped thinkin' and started diggin'.


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Uzi Silber writes the 'Jew's Muse' column in Ha'aretz. His work also appears in The Forward, Jerusalem Post, and The New York Times.

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