I didn’t grow up in the time of free love and draft cards, but I was BORN in the same year that the musical HAIR takes place. So I guess there’s some sort of tenuous connection between me and the generation of pot-smoking hippies that just want peace… man.
Funnily enough, I relate a lot to what these crazy slackers wanted: To make love not war. To have the freedom to be who you want to be. To live life to the fullest outside of the sometimes restricted confines of what society thinks you should be.
The musical Hair was first produced in Los Angeles in 1967, just a few blocks from the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood where the touring company of the Broadway revival is now playing. Based on a very specific time and place, Hair was the first rock musical that also had the cast interacting with the audience in an effort to make them all understand who these kids were, what they stood for, and how they lived their lives.
In a lot of ways, Hair doesn’t have much of a plot (unless you’ve seen the film version which has a storyline not approved by the original creators of the show.) It’s really just about getting to know these teenagers who suck us into their world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, all wrapped up in their quest for peace and truth. Amen, brother.
The touring company of Hair consists of an energetic cast that opens the show with the now classic anthem, “Aquarius.” They take us on a lively and sometimes trippy two and a half hours of unadulterated joy that they continuously throw out to the audience. Along with flowers and lots and lots of love.
In a nutshell, the show focuses on Berger (Steel Burkhardt), a free-spirited long-haired kid just kicked out of high-school for drugs who is determined to get himself to Canada to avoid the draft. This is the time when Vietnam loomed large and started to divide the country. Claude (Paris Remillard) is another free-spirit trying to escape the clutches of his controlling parents in Queens. When he gets his draft notice, he starts to question how he will survive without his adopted “family” and what this means for his life. And while he doesn’t believe in fighting the war, he also isn’t one to totally betray the rules.
There are a number of other great characters in the “Tribe” of Hair, all played expertly by a cast that is so energetic and so talented, their performances electrify. Burkhardt displays such an amazing charisma and sexuality he practically has half the audience aroused, and Remillard is so charming and unassumingly dreamy, he had the rest of the audience falling in love with him. Add in their amazing vocal gifts and you have two actors that blew the roof off of the theatre, especially with songs like “Hair” and “I Got Life.”
The entire play takes place in what appears to be one location, but the use of lighting and the constant re-positioning of the cast makes it seem like they are travelling the city, spreading their love throughout.
By the end, when the cast sings the titular song “Let The Sun Shine In,” they’ve not only made us believers, but they’ve made us want to be a part of something real. Whatever people might think of the politics of the show or the lifestyle these kids lived, they believed in something. They stood for something. And that brought an entire generation together. That doesn’t happen anymore. We had a taste of it when the war in Afghanistan began, but now more than ever, people are fighting for themselves rather than a cause and as a result, what they really believe in gets lost in translation. With the Prop 8 debacle in California, there was more of a camaraderie amongst the supporters of gay marriage. The protests and marches did create that feeling of being a part of something important and real.. It brought a community together and there definitely were points where you could feel the love and support around you.
But nothing like the hippie generation. There’s a line in the play that a tourist says where she tells the audience that she wishes everyone would go home and tell their kids to have the freedom to be who they want to be and do whatever they want to do… as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
And you know what? That’s exactly how the world should be. You want to be a conservative Christian? Go ahead. Just don’t hurt anyone else. You want to run around sleeping with everyone you can? Go ahead! Just don’t hurt anyone else. You want to move to New York City and pursue your dreams of stardom? Do it! As long as you aren’t hurting anyone else. If you want to walk the streets of the world with just a backpack and a mangy dog next to you…. Well by all means… GO!
My point is: we seem to be a country with such clear lines drawn that unless someone sees the world exactly like we do, they aren’t valid. Do I believe the same things my super conservative Christian family members and friends believe? No. Does it bug me? Sometimes. But if they aren’t actively trying to squelch my rights and livelihood (not all conservatives are) then I feel like… do it! Be a crazy conservative. If that’s what floats your boat! Just don’t hurt anyone by being that way. And if I want to be a crazy liberal and fight for animal rights or gay marriage or whatever it is I feel is right and true… I should do it! If I’m not hurting anyone, who cares?
And that is the ultimate point: Why are we so concerned about each other? If we aren’t hurting people or causing damage, then why can’t we just live our lives the way we want to. With the gays, I look at the homophobes or those against gay marriage or gay adoption and I’m like… “how is this affecting your life? Maybe you believe marriage is between a man and a woman because of your Bible, but that isn’t necessarily my belief. So go ahead, have your belief. Just let me have mine and don’t try to force your ideas onto me.”
This morning I saw a girl walking on the sidewalk with bright red hair. And I thought, on the East Coast where I was brought up, or even the mid-west, this girl would be snickered at. “Nice hair,” they’d say, silently mocking her. (Or maybe not so silently.) But here in Los Angeles, she wouldn’t get a sideways glance. I’m not saying people on the “Left Coast” are better than anyone, but I do think that in this city, people have learned to be open and accepting of people that aren’t like themselves. Because really, who cares if that girl has red hair? How is it affecting anyone’s life? She might be the nicest, sweetest, most giving person on the planet who just happened to feel like changing things up one morning. Who. Cares? Live and let live, I say. And that’s what the kids of Hair were saying. Sure, they might have gone about things the wrong way, but their heart was in the right place. (I feel this way about the liberals and Democrats of which I am both. We might not go about things in an effective way, but the instinct is right. Our spirits are choosing to do the right thing.)
Just like in Hair, all I want is peace, love, and understanding. And when the cast invites dozens of audience members onstage to dance and sway along with them at the end of the show, you really do feel it. And it’s quite a high… man.
HAIR continues at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through January 23, 2011.
For tickets: www.broadwayla.org