The curtain doesn’t rise on Hair — it falls, as though dramatically unveiling an animated diorama. As Rent exhibited a shallow vision of a sanitized 80s, this revival (transferred from a summer run at the Delacorte) dusts off The 60s, presenting a Natural History Museum showcase in which kids wear leather-fringe jackets, smoke drugs and toss out “love” as frequently as they use indefinite articles.
With little plot, Hair plays like a musical revue: it’s song after barely contextual song, held together by a thin story about the draft and romantic entanglements. The once-controversial show still retains the power to shock — maybe not New Yorkers, but Ma and Pa Kettle, at least, with its nudity, dope-o-philia, anti-militarism, and (simulated) interracial orgies.
Ostensibly a celebration of sex, drugs and show tune-inflected rock n’ roll, this Hair is thankfully smart enough to challenge its facile drop-out ethos. It sets up its stoners to take them down. “Easy to Be Hard” proves the show’s key text: “How can people be so cruel?” Sheila (Caissie Levy) sings of her hippie brethren. “Especially people…who care about evil and social injustice.” Because they’re just dumb kids — superficial, scared and self-destructive. The final tune, “Let the Sunshine In,” comes across as less a feel-good, Age of Aquarius anthem than as a plea for hope in a bleak-futured America.
As a chanting, gyrating group, the cast — or, uh, “tribe” — is charming, running through the aisles, tickling the audience. The glee is infectious; this production’s got life, brother (and a marvelous “I Got Life”), but it ain’t got no cultural relevancy. In Act II, a bad trip with Vietnam-related hallucinations, one character wears jungle-green camos. Why not desert-ecru? This is 2009, dearies, not 1969.