Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review: Hair

Gavin Creel as Claude (center) and the cast of the Broadway
revival of Hair. Joan Marcus photo.

Music, Energy Perm; Message Falls Flat, Needs ‘Son’shine

By Lauren Yarger
The free-love, anti-war rock sensation Hair bursts onto stage at the Hirschfeld Theater for its first revival on Broadway since it shocked audiences in 1968, but its messages which rallied and spoke for a generation of flower-children hippies seems dated for the 21st century.

Last summer’s The Public Theater’s production in Central Park, which transferred for the Broadway run, was a timely revisit of the contra-culture classic with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado complementing Galt MacDermot’s score which gave us, among others, the now standard “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Anti-war and anti-establishment sentiments were running high last summer as the presidential election race headed down the final stretch.

The election presumably solved that unrest, however: a liberal president was elected and quickly began championing that cause and reiterating his promise to end the war. So how does this musical speak for the current generation, as recent comments would have us believe? The anti-establishment protests we have now are in the form of tea parties being organized by conservatives, who, in general, and contrary to the anti-war protesters in Hair, are opposed to a quick pull-out from Iraq, and who are protesting bailout and stimulus spending without adequate representation of the taxpayers who will foot the bill. Not quite the same thing, so what might have struck a chord last summer seems out of tune now.

I wasn’t old enough to see the first Hair (really…I was playing with dolls, coloring in books and much too young to know a sexual and political revolution was taking place around me), but it must have been quite shocking. The depiction of sexual activity and drug use, not to mention the first-act, full cast, full nudity scene, took theater to a new unexplored level for back then. It was embraced as an expression of freedom by a generation which forced a wedge between themselves and their parents’ ideas of what was acceptable and expected forever.

For the most part, most of the folks I observed really getting into this revival were people old enough to be those flower children, perhaps reliving their youth. Others from younger generations around me were asking questions at intermission like, “Why did they have to be naked?” The sexual revolution the musical glorifies is intrinsically responsible for a decline in morals over the past 40 years that makes it almost impossible to shock an audience now. This year alone, I have seen more naked people on stage than I can count.

Gavin Creel as Claude and Will Swenson as Berger with the cast.
Instead of playing with dolls and coloring in books, elementary school children today have to worry about their families breaking up (maybe for the second or third time), how to avoid offending each other (opinions contrary to what's considered "politically correct" often are not permitted or tolerated) and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (with education required in some states as early as kindergarten). I don’t think any of this is good and that’s why it’s hard for me to embrace the message of this story. Watching a group of sexually promiscuous folks getting high on drugs and singing “our eyes are open” strikes me as ironic and sad.

Beyond my issues with messages that go beyond the basic tale of a boy trying to decide whether or not to burn his draft card, let me tell you that this revival is very well done. Diane Paulus directs an exuberant cast led by Gavin Creel, Sasha Allen (I saw understudy Saycon Sengbloh), Will Swenson and Caissie Levy who have strong voices and who throw their energy into the music and dancing (choreography by Karole Armitage). Paulus makes good use of the space, often having actors positioned in and interacting with the audience (even up in the balcony). The signature song “Hair” rocks out the house and is a showstopper.

Scott Pask’s scenic design includes a large sunburst painted on the brick wall behind the action and it, along with period costumes by Michael McDonald, set the stage.

Hair runs at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., NY. Tickets at

Christians might also like to know:
• Full Nudity
• Sexual Acts Depicted
• Drug Use Depicted throughout
• Scantily Clad Actors
• Cross Dressing
• Eastern Religion Practiced
• Homosexual Activity
• Sex Outside of Marriage

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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