How dare they try to end this beauty

Just a few short weeks ago, and much to Michelle's and my dismay, Hair ended its run at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Michelle and I attended the show's third to last performance on Saturday afternoon after winning lotto seats, and so we got the privilege to experience this wonderful show one last time from the right box. Fair warning: this post is going to be filled with glowing praise for one of my favorite shows of all-time, one that has had a definite impact on both my life and the way I view theater as an art form. So, if Hair is not your cup of tea, or if you have a problem with gushing praise and adoration, then you'll probably be bumming. Sorry. (Except not really - this show's kind of the shit).

One of the reasons I love Hair so much is because it completely changed my perspective on how interactive a theatrical production can be. Before then, I had always thought that a very clear fourth wall existed between the actors and the audience, and that wall was not meant to be broken in any circumstances. A play or musical was something to be witnessed, not something to be involved in. Audiences only participated in the theater in terms of their response to it - laughing at the jokes, crying at the sad moments, and applauding for a job well done. Well, Hair took that viewpoint and chucked it out the window. The interaction between the cast members and the audience was an experience like no other, and I loved every second of it. What other show gives its audience a chance to dance on stage after every performance, much less joins in? It created a sense of connection with the cast, as if the audience and the actors were equals, both equally involved in creating an incredible theater experience.

And make no mistake, it is a fantastic experience, and a fantastic piece of theater. Sure, it may not have the strongest book ever (and by that, I mean hardly any book at all - the people who sat behind us at our last show had never seen the show before, and they were talking about how they had Wikipedia-ed the plot but still had no clue what the show was really about. Twas funny.) But what it lacks in plot or riveting drama it more than makes up for in joyous exaltation of the messages of hope, peace, and above all, love. The show's about a bunch of hippies who spend their time smoking weed and dodging the draft - of course they're all going to be about peace and love. And though Hair was a poignant and somewhat controversial show when it first arrived on Broadway back in 1968, its themes still resonate today. We're still a nation at war, and a controversial war at that; we're still a people who are quick to hate and slow to love. The score of this show, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, acknowledges this reality with its sometimes silly, sometimes trippy, but always beautiful music and lyrics. The music is at times serious, at times upbeat, but always a joyous celebration of life, love and freedom in all its forms. I always left the theater with a smile on my face and humming any of the show's catchy melodies under my breath, ready to let the sunshine in and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. That is why I find Hair to be such an incredible show - it could return to Broadway in 20 years or 200, and it would still be just as powerful and relevant as it is today. Great theater is timeless.

While the music of Hair is evocative and incredible, it would not be as entertaining and moving were it not sung and acted by its fantastic Tribe. The original ("Aquarius") and replacement ("Starshine") tribes were both wonderful in their own rights, and it is disappointing to me that some people could not or would not accept the new Tribe once the majority of the original cast left to transfer Hair to London, and that the show suffered as a result. While I do appreciate snark more than the average person, I also generally adhere to the adage "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" (except in certain cases, such as whenever Sarah Palin is brought up in conversation or whenever I see someone wearing a denim tuxedo), and some of the comments made about the replacement cast were just downright vicious. But you know what? Haters to the left. The original cast was wonderful, yes, but I loved the second cast just as much, if not more. Not only were they immensely talented, they gave the show renewed youth and vigor, and they just generally seemed like the kind of people you'd want to be around on a regular basis.

In the five times Michelle and I saw the show, we had the privilege of seeing four Sheilas (Jackie Burns, Caissie Levy, Brianna Carlson-Goodman, and Diana DeGarmo), four Woofs (Ryan Link, Bryce Ryness, Jay A. Johnson, and Jason Wooten), three Claudes (Gavin Creel, Jay A. Johnson, and Kyle Riabko), two Bergers (Will Swenson and Ace Young), two Jeannies (Kacie Sheik and Annaleigh Ashford), and a whole host of other Tribe members in various tracks. Michelle and I each had our favorites from amongst these performances, but what didn't change were the consistently high-quality performances delivered every time. These actors brought such joy and life to the show, fully embodying the hippie spirit as they sang and danced across the stage and through the aisles, bringing with them their contagious enthusiasm for the show and for life in general. Perhaps Michelle and I are not discerning enough in our tastes, or perhaps we are too easily impressed by those who possess talents we can only dream of. Perhaps it was the other fans of the show, the one's who decried certain casting decisions as all wrong and ruining the show, who are mistaken. Whatever the case may be, I have nothing but praise for the actors who embodied this show and its characters eight times a week. They were engaging, energetic, and every single one of them are, in my mind, incredibly talented. I wish them all the best in their future endeavors, and I will forever be appreciative for the magic they created with this show.

Although I believe this show closed far sooner than it should have, given the immense talent of its cast and the relevance of its messages in today's volatile social climate, Hair ultimately had a successful run of over 500 performances on Broadway, won a bunch of Tonys, and was the most purely joyous theater experience I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. It is deeply loved and will be sorely missed.


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