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Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
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HAIR, featuring book and lyrics by the late Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, opened to rave reviews on Broadway March 31, 2009 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Under the direction of Diane Paulus, Hair arrives on Broadway after a run as part of the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park 2008. The cast of the Broadway revival of Hair features Will Swenson as Berger, Tony nominee Gavin Creel as Claude, Sasha Allen as Dionne, Caissie Levy as Sheila, Allison Case as Crissy, Kacie Sheik as Jeanie, Bryce Ryness as Woof, Darius Nichols as Hud, Megan Lawrence as Mother and Andrew Kober as Margaret Mead/Dad. With a score including such enduring musical numbers as "Let the Sun Shine In," "Aquarius," "Hair" and "Good Morning Starshine," Hair depicts the birth of a cultural movement in the `60s and `70s that changed America forever: the musical follows a group of hopeful, free-spirited young people who advocate a lifestyle of pacifism and free-love in a society riddled with intolerance and brutality during the Vietnam War. As they explore sexual identity, challenge racism, experiment with drugs and burn draft cards, the "tribe" in Hair creates an irresistible message of hope, peace and change that continues to resonate with audiences 40 years later.
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Listening to this album one realizes that, for all its revolutionary and subversive trappings of the show, just how strong (and in some ways conventional) the score actually is. The composers used a mixture of sources -- pop, rock, psychedelic, gospel, and Broadway sound to craft a score that fully conveys the emotions and psychology of the characters while also moving what passes for the "plot" along, as is the case in any Broadway musical. The only difference here is that along with their hopes and fears the characters are singing about sex, drugs, and politics, in a manner that is both heartfelt and calculated to shock the sensibilities of middle-class squares. You know who you are, man.
While some of the music and references are dated, it is remarkable how well the score holds up, overall. Yes, the songs that are most familiar to general audiences -- "Aquarius," Hair," "Where Do I Go?" "Easy To Be Hard" and "Good Morning Starshine" are here, delivered, for most part, in performances that make them sound fresh and new while also make it seem like we are meeting up again with old friends. But one of the joys of this soundtrack (as with the show itself, which I had the pleasure of seeing) is coming across songs long hidden in the score that now jump out and linger with you long after the CD is over.
"Air," which is a brief environmental lament and features one of the best solo vocal performances of the entire album, "Hare Krishna/Be-In," which begins as a playful, joyous, Eastern music-influenced number that builds in crescendo and becomes more intense and serious as the "Tribe" tries to get Claude to burn his draft card, "Electric Blues," a tongue-in-cheek "old fashioned melody" that both spoofs the idea of a show-stopping number while delivering just that. The mournful ""Walking in Space" Three-Five-Zero-Zero" are haunting antiwar numbers while songs such as "Initials" and "What a Piece of Work is Man" are delightful exercises in lyrical word-play.
The album's one weakness if the same as the show's: Claude's drug trip that consumes much of Act 2. I found this sequence draggy in the theatre and also on the CD, frankly, watching somebody else's acid trip is about as interesting as listening to somebody recall a dream they had. After a minute or so, the eyes and ears glaze over. But the show and CD quickly recover as Claude, struggling over whether to dodge the draft or obey the law, rushes to his fate. The final numbers "The Flesh Failures/Eyes Look Your Last/Let The Sun Shine In" deliver a real emotional wallop. "Let The Sun Shine" has become known as a joyful anthem, while in fact it is a mournful elegy for an entire generation.
This CD includes a booklet featuring informative essays about this revival from several of the creative people behind it along with a number of photographs.
Is "Hair" a relic of the 1960s? This CD makes a powerful argument that "Hair," like all great pop culture artifacts, can be both of its time and timely to other generations as well. Certainly its concerns -- racism, sexism, generational conflict, the struggles of the individual against our modern, anti-human age -- are still with us. And its main story -- the struggle for young people to search for meaning and identity at a time when the wrong choices literally had life and death consequences -- heighten its impact. Let the sun shine. But don't trust anyone other 30. Especially if you're over 30 yourself.
The HAIR (THE NEW BROADWAY CAST RECORDING) soundtrack is phenomenal. It mixes the original music arrangements Hair (Deluxe Edition) (1968 Original Broadway Cast and 1967 off Broadway Cast) with some of the arrangements from the movie Hair: Original Soundtrack Recording - Special Anniversary Edition, into a fresh--but still "hair"--sound. It captures the excitement of the play and it's almost as good as being there.
The highly talented cast especially Gavin Creel, Sasha Allen, Caissie Levy, Kacie Sheik and Will Swenson will no doubt bring the soundtrack to a whole new generation of listeners.
I'm sure fans of the original and movie soundtracks of HAIR will enjoy this revival of it. I sure did, and I've got both previous soundtracks, plus the Deutsche Originalaufnahme Haare (Hair) - the German version of the Broadway show which features Donna Summer. Although I still like the movie vocal arrangement of "Black Boys" and "White Boys" with the duet between the male and female voices--and nobody can touch Cheryl Barnes's version of "Easy To Be Hard"--this new cast and revival of the musical is truly enjoyable.
HAIR comes with a small booklet with liner notes by Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director-The Public Theater and Diane Paulus, Hair's Director. Also included are color pictures of the cast and production history notes. I wish they included the lyrics, but no such luck.
The cover art is also a little boring compared to the previous releases and belies the fun and high energy that the soundtrack music conveys to the audience.
Let the sun shine in and get HAIR (THE NEW BROADWAY CAST RECORDING) today! It will put a smile on your face! :)
This version has a much more acoustic sound to it than the version I went to see and also other recordings I've heard (1993 London Cast and Original 1968 Broadway Cast) It has all the right lyrics though and even has the "smaller" songs, like the short "Manchester" reprise in the second act, and things like "Aquarius Goodnights", which were not included in other recordings but are a part of the musical.
The only downsides to this recording are 1. the fact that Will Swenson (the actor who played Berger) has such a nasally voice (I'm not sure if it was done on purpose for the character, or if that's just his natural voice, but he sings very, very nasally) and 2. some of the spoken/story parts are removed from the songs. Like in the middle of "Going Down", when Berger is expelled by the principals, or during "The Flesh Failures/Let The Sunshine In" when Claude says "If I am unseen, I can perform miracles. That's all I want to do on this dirt!" Both of those, and a couple of other lines/mid-song short scenes are removed, which is too bad if you want more of the story, but okay for just listening to the soundtrack.
Overall, I think I would give this particular recording 4.5 out of 5 stars. The musical arrangement is nice. Aside from Berger, I really like all the other cast member's voices. It of course has the story and I really like that it does have the smaller bits.
In the words of the monk, "nice, nice, nicenicenicenicenice. Very nice, very nice."