NEW YORK - In what seems like, oh, a couple weeks since it was last on Broadway, the Public Theater production of the iconic tribal-love-rock-musical Hair is back again. You could call it the re-revival, and it returns to the Big Time in reverse form: What landed at the St. James Theatre and opened Wednesday night is the national tour version of the show that recently left.
The production is calling itself a 10-week "summer of love" run. The cast includes some of the same performers who graced Hair's 500-plus-performance revival that ended in last summer's love. The show is energetic and fun and the music - what you go for, because it's surely not the script - remains a sumptuous pastiche of world sounds.
But the show, directed by Diane Paulus, is less effective in this staging, which panders to the audience more shamelessly than other shameless Hairs; the actors run back and forth in the aisles, address us directly more than in the past, and generally pander like sideshow weirdos. Can this really be a ragtag group of kids taking up life in Central Park, or even on the streets? Not anymore. This production is set solidly inside a theater.
In fact, for the first half, much of it seemed to me more like a concert version than any I've seen. (OK, I admit, it was my seventh, um, drop-out.) It also is even less subtle, if that is possible, in its mockery of The Establishment of the '70s, or by extension, of today. To be sure, mugging - there's a lot of it - is not an effective substitute for protesting hypocrisy, pollution, repression, war or, especially, conscription - a driving force for seeing the original Hair when it came out in the heady days of 1968 and ran for 1,750 Broadway performances after lighting up the Public Theater stage.
In truth, it's not smart to be a Hair purist because the concept of the show stands in your way. The original show was produced with more of a guidepost than a script, making it malleable; the production you see today may be lots different from the one you saw even recently.
This version has the longest second-half weed-induced sequence I've seen, and an ending whose score seemed slightly rearranged to me, although the stings of war - this case, Vietnam - were the same. (No, I was not stoned. I was reviewing.)
Despite wild overamping that plows the clever lyrics under, the excellent voices come across, with Steel Burkhardt as Berger, the leader of the pack; Paris Remillard as Claude, the sidekick who gets drafted; Caren Lyn Tackett as the main babe and the rest of the tribe.
This national tour cast comes to the Academy of Music in late February - presumably, most of them will still be in the production. Who knows whether this Hair will grow to something different by then, or whether it will recede to the less cartoonish version by the same creative team at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre three summers back? The particular hairstyle, now on Broadway, is caricature, not as becoming as some others.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Follow him on Twitter at #philastage. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.