Playbill Throwback: Hair

Hair - 2009 Revival - Playbill

The Show: Hair – Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot

The Time: November 8, 2009

Me: “Wheeee, I freaking love this city!”

The Great Gatsby - Party

In my last Playbill Throwback for Next to Normal, I talked about a very difficult time in my life, a time that made me re-think my career path entirely and left me feeling very vulnerable. As difficult as this time was for me career-wise, however, I was experiencing another entirely different sensation from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I was falling madly in love with New York City.

At the height of my initial infatuation with the city, I won the ticket lottery for the Broadway revival of Hair. It was a bright Sunday afternoon. The day was warm, considering it was the beginning of November, and I walked across Manhattan from my apartment to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. I was seeing the show solo, something I rarely do anymore, and I was seeing Hair without knowing any of the plot, also a rarity anymore. The soundtrack was on nearly constant repeat on my iPod, though, and the Tony Awards performance had really impressed me. The cast was so fun and free and full of life. I couldn’t wait to experience it in person.

Here is a rundown of the 2009 revival cast and then the cast from November 8, 2009. Principal actors who were not original members of the revival cast are in bold.

Original 2009 Broadway Revival Cast:

Sasha Allen – Dionne
Gavin Creel – Claude
Caissie Levy – Sheila
Darius Nichols – Hud
Allison Case – Crissy
Bryce Ryness – Woof
Kacie Sheik – Jeanie
Will Swenson – Berger

The Cast From November 8, 2009:
Sasha Allen – Dionne
Gavin Creel – Claude
Caissie Levy – Sheila
Darius Nichols – Hud
Vanessa Ray – Crissy
Bryce Ryness – Woof
Kacie Sheik – Jeanie
Will Swenson – Berger

Of the principle cast, I recognized Sasha Allen and her incredible voice from 2003’s Camp. Seriously, that voice is freaking amazing. Check out a clip of her singing in the film here.

Gavin Creel is another case of a great talent in the cast. From his work in Thoroughly Modern Millie to Mary Poppins and The Book of Mormon, he has a terrific voice and enviable stage presence. Here he is performing “I Believe” at the 2014 Olivier Awards.

Frankly, I could gush about any of the principle cast members, but the last one I will highlight individually is Will Swenson, also known as Inspector Javert in the revival of Les Miserables on Broadway and husband to Audra McDonald. He also had one of the best guest bits on Submissions Only as a dreamy but kind of psychotic line reader.

As a show, Hair is very light on story but manages to immerse the audience fully into that time in American history. There is ecstatic joy in the characters embracing free love, psychedelic drugs, and equality across races and genders, but there is fear as the Vietnam War looms in the background with the draft threatening to snatch them away unwillingly. It captures the time, place, and people expertly.

The first half of the show is stronger than the second half. It is easier to follow thematically, and it has the most memorable songs like “Aquarius,” “Manchester England,” and the show’s title song “Hair.” The second half does have great songs too, like “Good Morning Starshine” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In),” but the first half is overall more big, colorful, and upbeat.

Even with its faults, Hair will always be special to me. At the end of the show, the cast goes out into the audience and pulls people up onto the stage for a big happy dance party. It was the first time I had set foot on a Broadway stage, and that moment, jumping around and dancing with a whole lot of strangers, it felt like an embodiment of my head-over-heels infatuation with New York City itself. One dream might have been changing for me, yes, but this was a city of opportunity. All I had to do was keep my heart and mind open, and let the sun shine in.

Other notes about this Playbill:

There are a few notable members of the ensemble that I wanted to highlight. Krystal Joy Brown recently played Josephine Bloom in Big Fish and  Diana Ross in Motown: The Musical. Jackie Burns is currently Idina Menzel’s standby in If/Then and also played Elphaba in Wicked from September 2011 to February 2013. Jay Armstrong Johnson can be currently seen as Chip in On the Town.

Also, it was exciting to see Megan Reinking, another Cedar Rapids alumni, in the cast. She went to Kennedy High School, my alma mater, and she was in the varsity show choir Happiness Inc., which I played trombone in the choir’s combo. Seeing Reinking on a Broadway stage was truly inspiring to me and a reminder that there was someone else from Cedar Rapids, Iowa who was chasing their dreams in New York City and achieving such success.

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Notable Shows on Broadway: A Little Night Music, After Miss Julie, Billy Elliot, Brighton Beach Memoirs/Broadway Bound, Burn the Floor, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Fela!, Finian’s Rainbow, God of Carnage, Hamlet, In the Heights, In the Next Room, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, Memphis, Next to Normal, Oleanna, Race, Ragtime, Rock of Ages, Shrek the Musical, South Pacific, Superior Donuts, The Addams Family, The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, The Royal Family, 39 Steps, West Side Story, White Christmas, Wicked, and Wishful Drinking

 

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One thought on “Playbill Throwback: Hair

  1. Pingback: Playbill Throwback: The Lion King | Ludus NYC - Your Ultimate Theater Resource

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