Monday, August 04, 2014

HAIR today, gone tomorrow

But first -- my comic novel, MUST KILL TV, is now on sale for only $0.99 (Kindle version).  This is for a couple of days only.  Here's where you go to order yours.  I want to be part of your summer reading... even if I have to take a bath to do it.  Again, only $0.99. 

UPDATE: There had been a glitch with Amazon.  Now it's fixed and the price is indeed $0.99.  So if you tried before and didn't see the sale price, please check in again.  It's now correct.  Thanks.

Saw the revival of HAIR Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve since seen a couple of reviews and they all read like, well… theater reviews. They praised or criticized the acting, staging, lighting, etc. (And for the most part they liked it... although most of them weren't alive in 1967 so their comparisons were somewhat laughable.)

My review is going to be a little different. Mine is as much about the experience as the production itself.

Full disclosure: I saw HAIR originally in the ‘60s at the Aquarius Theatre in Los Angeles and pretty much loved everything about it except a lot of the music. Some songs were great, and a lot of others (as Leonard Bernstein called their lyrics) were just laundry lists. But the staging, the daring nature of the piece, the sensibility, and yes, the nudity – greatly appreciated from the third row – made for a thrilling night of theater. So what if I didn’t love the music and HAIR was 95% music. There’s always some little thing.

So when we saw that HAIR was being revived at the Hollywood Bowl I was all-too-happy to get tickets. I love going to the Bowl on a warm summer evening (you can always count on great weather in August), having dinner under the stars in one of the boxes, and enjoying a concert that wasn’t heavy Classical. (Sue me, I fall asleep.)

Well, the boxes were sold out. That meant unforgiving wooden benches in the next area code from the stage. We had friends in the boxes but the ushers wouldn’t let anyone down there who didn’t have a ticket. You can understand. These people pay good money for those boxes and they don’t want riff-raff coming down the aisles asking, “Are you gonna finish that quiche?” and “Could I hit you up for a glass of Chablis?”

There is a definite caste system at the Hollywood Bowl – those that sit in comfortable cloth director chairs and those who watch tied to a traction rack. You can rent seat cushions for a dollar. Get there four hours early if you have to to ensure they don’t run out.

Lots of people came dressed in tie-died attire; my wife being one. That’s pretty much the only ‘60s style you can still wear that doesn’t look ridiculous today… especially on baby boomers. Jean jackets, peace signs, leather fringe vests, and especially mini skirts are clothing items you need to put away on your 50th birthday or risk felony prosecution. Same for wearing bells and little clickers. I wore my 93/KHJ Boss Radio t-shirt, which was fashionably groovy but tastefully understated.
The show began under cloudy skies, somewhat unusual but it made for a warm evening. Sometimes the Bowl can get windy and cold, even in the summer. And by cold I mean you need a sweater.

Doing Broadway shows on the Hollywood Bowl stage is like holding a poker game in an empty airplane hanger. Any intimacy is gone. The stage is the size of Rhode Island and even a cast of 33 disappears under the humongous clamshell. Fortunately, now there are Jumbotron boards so someone other than members of the Otis Chandler family in the front row and the mayor can see the actors’ faces. Considering the expanse they had to work with I thought the choreography and staging was terrific. Lots of flying hippies. And they only had two weeks to rehearse. So on that level the production was amazing… I mean, far out man!

The costumes were authentic so everyone looked like they were in a bad sketch. If the ‘60s were before your time and your only exposure to the era was this show you’d think all girls were ethereal and floated around spaced out, and that all guys had Greek God physiques and went shirtless all the time. I’m here to tell you that wasn’t the case. When you’re skinny with a sunken chest you don’t even go shirtless in the shower.
TV star power was provided by Kristen Bell, Sarah Hyland, Hunter Parrish and others. All could sing. Kristen had the advantage of singing a couple of the best songs. Poor Sarah. Her mic shorted out during her big number. But she was a trooper, plowed through, and eventually they brought her a stick mic. I have to say, she’s a really good singer… and sport. And Amber Riley can belt with the best of ‘em (meaning AMERICAN IDOL contestants). Of the cast, I thought Benjamin Walker (as shirtless handsome guy number one) was the best and most charismatic. At least from the video board. We were so far back we could have been seeing the night before’s performance. It took the speed of light and sound that long to reach our section.

Needless to say, the nudity was not shown on the Dodgervision boards. So I saw nothing. I think they were naked. They could have been wearing parkas; I was that far back.

The themes, which seemed so relevant and important, felt silly. You have to put the show in perspective. When it debuted the typical Broadway show was HELLO DOLLY. HAIR used profanity, was political opposed the war, explored racial relations, employed rock music, promoted drug use, had a very loose story, and of course featured nudity. It was a pretty safe bet if you went to HELLO DOLLY you wouldn’t see Carol Channing full-frontal.

The songs I always liked I still liked. The others I still didn’t. And my take away from the first act was – we were sort of idiots back then. Well-intentioned and very exuberant but naive idiots just the same.

Act two was always kind of a mess. But on this night it didn’t help that it started raining. That’s right. RAIN. In Southern California. In the summer. This caught everyone by surprise of course, and for the first half hour people were either leaving or going down to ushers to get ponchos. The concourses were packed.

(I wasn’t there but I'm guessing that when it poured at Woodstock, a half a million people didn’t scramble desperately for ponchos.)

Kudos to the actors for persevering. This had to be tough for them too – especially when they see half the audience fleeing for the aisles.

It even rained in the boxes. The only section that didn’t get wet was the top because they were above the clouds.

But it was very hard to focus during the second act. So it wouldn’t be fair to give an overall impression of this production because I spent half of it trying to figure out how you put on a poncho.

All in all, I think they did the best they could with the conditions and material they had to work with. Having lived through that period, it’s disconcerting that a show that seemed so contemporary and relevant today plays like a museum piece. The nostalgia aspect is fun for about a half hour. And then you start calculating in your head how old the original cast must be, and who had the hit of “Easy To Be Hard” (Three Dog Night), and no one you knew used “psychedelic” in every sentence like these people, and does David Crosby still dress like that, and how many in the cast were wearing wigs, and how many of those hippies from 1967 are selling insurance today, and what the fuck is with this rain?

HAIR was the perfect title for this groundbreaking musical. If there is one symbol of our generation – its rebellious spirit and identifiable trademark – it’s hair. Long and twisted, bearded, braided, whatever. It’s sad to think that if they made a musical about us today it would, at best, be called SIDE BURNS.


Terrence Moss said...

I was at there that night too! We were seated just below the clouds, so we knew it was raining before everyone else.

As soon as it started raining, I was pissed because they made me check my umbrella. And they had run out of ponchos by the time I realized that the actor who mentioned that they were being given away wasn't joking.

On a side note, Amber Riley is far better than AMERICAN IDOL.

The Big Bukowski said...

Today's version would be ROGAINE. Nice review, I enjoyed it very much. I, unfortunately, am old enough to remember the original - therefore, I don't. Same with Woodstock. No more wood, selling off the stock.

Since I paid full-fare for your book when it was first published (in 1959, I believe), do I get a rebate now?

Dan Ball said...

Today's version would be called BEARD and it would feature bluegrass/new-grass instead of rock. Instead of being political and counter-cultural, it'd regale the audience with talk of poutine and Pollock. Everyone in the audience would smoke whiskey and drink cigars. Nothing would be as it seemed.

Anonymous said...

Ken, it's showing on Amazon at $2.99. Is there something I'm doing wrong?

Jim S said...

Forget the review of the play. How was the drive home? Did the citizens of LA panic having to drive in this mysterious phenomonon of water falling from the sky?

Also, have their been news stories about the drought not being over despite this manna from heaven?

gottacook said...

"’s disconcerting that a show that seemed so contemporary and relevant today plays like a museum piece…"

Well, that was true even in the early 1970s, or so it seemed to me (when I was 12 in the late '60s my folks saw the show on Broadway, promptly bought the 8-track tape of the original cast recording, played it in the car all the time; they were on the liberal side when it came to language). Around 1972 I saw a touring production at the university in my home town that already felt like the relic of another era despite attempts to remain current, such as some references to Nixon rather than Johnson.

On the other hand, I always liked the music, or at least the original cast album versions - some of the arrangements in the 1979 Milos Forman movie are just off to me, despite the participation of one of the composers. (I also have the earlier off-Broadway cast LP with many song differences, with the finale "Sentimental Ending.")

Pete Grossman said...

Saw the revival on Broadway a few years back. At the end the audience was invited to jump on stage to sing and dance with the cast. What a blast!

I've always dug this musical and like the movie. My parents were ahead of their time in the 60s and went to see the original Broadway production. They loved it and bought the soundtrack - which I played endlessly. There I was, a kid running around the basement singing about LBJ, LSD and cunnilingus at the top of my lungs. Nice.

Eric J said...

I saw the San Francisco production which ran simultaneously with L.A. and Chicago. Even then, it was taken in good fun and mostly considered silly. We put together a group of about 20 from NASA Ames in Sunnyvale and rented a bus to take us. We dressed for the occasion, the only rule being "NO pocket protectors".

Max Clarke said...

There was an episode of Cheers in which HAIR was featured.

Woody has a part in his community theater's production of HAIR, so he prepares for the nude scene by tending bar almost naked.

Ben Scripps said...

We did "Hair" as a high school musical many years ago; the school district completely defanged it (goodbye nude scenes, drug use, songs "Sodomy" and "The Bed", etc.), leaving a random selection of songs without a lot of purpose.

The big problem with doing "Hair", at least in my high school, was that mine was a very wealthy, well-to-do school district in the midwest in the '80s. (We weren't rich, but we lived there first, and the rich people came in after us.) Absolutely true story: the song "Colored Spade", in which a black cast member recites a litany of offensive terms for black people, comes across much differently than intended when it's sung by someone from India wearing an afro wig.

DBenson said...

I remember that the Cowsills -- another squeaky-clean Osmond-style family act -- did a few covers, which were constantly on the radio instead of the cast album.

Breadbaker said...

Saw opening night of the Detroit version in 1968. First time I'd ever seen naked women. It made a lasting impression. The plot, not so much. Forman tried to make it a bit more coherent with the film and didn't entirely fail that way.

Eric J said...

"First time I'd ever seen naked women. It made a lasting impression. The plot, not so much."

With age, plot begins to impress you more.

gottacook said...

DBenson: The Cowsills recorded one song from Hair (the title song) and had a national hit with it - but they left out the verse about long-haired Jesus: "Mary loved her son; why don't my mother love me?"

The other hits from Hair (as I recall) were
Three Dog Night - "Easy to Be Hard"
Fifth Dimension - "Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" (the biggest hit of 1969, unless "Sugar, Sugar" was)
Oliver - "Good Morning Starshine" (including a verse not in the show)
The Happenings - "Where Do I Go" (very obscure relative to the others, and the only one I myself didn't buy as a single, although it got airplay at the time)

Todd Everett said...

I'm about your age, Ken -- maybe a little older -- and I've seen at least three professional productions of "Hair" over the years, including the Aquarius run (I was that tall guy in front you you, blocking your view of the nude scene as I stood to see better -- er, applaud.

My reaction was always the same: hated the hippy-dippy book; found many -- most -- of the musical numbers thrilling. Didn't see the Bowl show, but my ideal concert "Hair" would be just the music. In the nude, for authenticity's sake.

Pat Reeder said...

I was too young to see the original production, but Uptown Players here in Dallas did a revival a few years ago, and I caught that. Both the book and the costumes did confirm for me that a whole lot of people were on drugs in the '60s. Some of the music still held up well, as do these timeless and meaningful lyrics from "Good Morning Starshine":

"Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song."

Like I said, lotta drugs being taken back then.

JMW said...

I saw the original cast Broadway production of Hair in May 1968 at the Biltmore Theatre. After reading your review I dug up the Playbill (program) which, of course, I still have. It looks like a prop from a Mad Men episode: 4 full page, full color ads for cigarettes, full page gas-guzzler car ads for Cadillac and Ford, and one for a Chevy convertible with the cute caption "Fiddle with the Roof".

I chedked out the cast searching for familiar names, and was surprised to be reminded that Diane Keaton and Melba Moore were part of that ensemble.

Here's what I remember from 46 years ago: several of the songs, the anti-war anti-establishment vibe (period lingo there), and the nude scene (hey, I was 16.) Here's what I've since forgotten: the plot. Perhaps it's just as well.

Gary Mack said...

When can I get my shirt back?

nelly wilson said...

Also, men should not wear thin white tee shirts when they have man boobs, Ken.

Kirkland said...

Saw the movie, never had the chance to see the stage version. Understand there are some major differences. Last I heard of the stage version coming to town was in spring 2003, right before the second invasion of Iraq; considering that political atmosphere then, that would've been an interesting experience.

My sister-in-law, an actress, was in a recent big-city production of Hair; assuming that version included nudity, for family reasons I guess it's a good thing I didn't see it. Sunday dinners would've been awk-ward.

RCP said...

I've listened to the soundtrack since I was a kid and still love 'Walking in Space' and 'Let the Sunshine In' in particular. Never saw the stage production but did see the film, which was terrific. Coming out of the theater, a young woman remarked (in a tone of distaste): "All those people with all that hair."

Breadbaker said...

Question, Ken: Did they keep in the line in Claude Hooper Bukowski, "even his countryman Roman Polanski"? It would be interesting to hear the reaction of an LA audience.

gottacook said...

Breadbaker: In "Manchester, England," the lyrics "who finds that it's groovy to hide in a movie, pretends he's Fellini and Antonioni and also his countryman Roman Polanski, all rolled into one, one Claude Hooper Bukowski" are sung much faster than the rest of the song; the name wouldn't have stood out unless the singer gave it special emphasis. Of course, they could substitute "Krzysztof Kieslowski" or some other Polish director with a 5-syllable name...

Mark said...

Apologies for the non sequitur but...

Check out these Garner interviews

and note how much time is spent discussing scripts and writers.

And I assume everybody has seen this.

Mark said...

RockGolf said...

So I have to ask: During the rain, was that when they performed "Let The Sunshine In"?

Rockgolf, again said...

One other note about the Cowsills' version of "Hair". It was orginally intended as a joke.
Carl Reiner wanted to pick the most clean-cut, conservative, family-friendly band to perform a song from the most raunchy, left-wing, subversive show on Broadway. The thinking was it would be so out of place it would be hilarious.
The Cowsills (for the first time in their career) did their own production and arrangement and it turned out to be the band's biggest hit.

gottacook said...

Rockgolf: That's quite interesting; where did you find this Cowsills lore? [I actually saw them in concert at the Allentown (PA) Fair, but don't recall whether it was before "Hair" was released - although I do remember it was an evening show and they accordingly substituted "moon" for "sun" ("Suddenly the sun broke through") in "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," their first national hit.]