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Circle Theatre Enters The Age of Aquarius With Hair

Circle Theatre lavishes talent and energy on Hair, resulting in strong individual performances, and a few good songs, but not a coherent story.

/Circle Theatre

Two years before Woodstock, Hair debuted. The musical, a melange of starry-eyed anthems, provocations, and hippie fashion, soon went to Broadway. The New York Times' reviewer heralded it as "new, fresh, and unassuming." A half-century later, it's no longer new. Nor, I'm sorry to say, is it fresh, and many of its assumptions can no longer go unexamined.

Dustiness isn't immediately apparent. The show begins with "Aquarius," a stomping, rousing call to joy. It's a great song. At Circle Theatre, where it plays through September 25th, it had lost none of its power. Emily Diener's singing was particularly strong (when isn't it?), and the overall effect was to strip away the years, presenting the hippies as they must occasionally have appeared: not just optimistic, but triumphantly so.

The show couldn't sustain that energy and doesn't attempt to. Quickly, it settles into what will remain its pattern: scenes of dialogue alternating with bursts, sometimes assaults, of music. Much of the dialogue is committed to being shocking, at least for the time (imagine the clutched pearls!), but little of it advances the threadbare plot. Individual characters swim briefly into focus, such as charismatic stoner Berger, played by David Houseman, but they're more sketched than painted.

The best of them is surely Claude Bukowski, played with greasy charm and excellent voice by Nate Reynolds. Born in Oklahoma, Claude claims to be from Manchester, England. He is beloved by what he, and everybody, refers to as his "tribe" (this is the least of the show's many stumbles concerning ethnicity). He's found bliss; you can see it in the way he swings his hair. But he has a draft card that he can't quite commit to burning, and across the sea looms war.

As the play proceeds, a young woman named Sheila is treated badly, and sings about it. "Easy To Be Hard" is not a bad song - nor would it be a bad slogan for Viagra - but it's been robbed of its power by the failure of the writers to make us care about its singer. We just met her, and so we admire her singing without feeling it in our bones.

In lieu of the show's famous nude scene, the tribe carries signs referencing modern concerns: the rise in Asian hate crimes ("Love Us Like You Love Our Boba Tea"); police brutality ("Say Their Names"); the pandemic ("Mask It Or Casket"). It's a noble attempt at making Hair relevant again, and a reminder that change for the better tends to be driven by the young.

Eventually the groovy tunes and shocking moments (African-American men clutching spears; a black female Lincoln who uses a racial slur) grow wearying. But then there's "Let The Sunshine In." Like "Aquarius," it's a great song, a song that serves both as a call to arms and a dirge; a surprising and beautiful melancholy suffuses it . I'm hearing it in my head even now.

For all its datedness, Hair still has its moments. I just wish it had more of them.

To learn more, visit HAIR – Circle Theatre.

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