By: Jade Shi
In Diane Paulus’ 2010 US National Tour of Hair, the embodying values of the hippie movement of the 1960s and the cultural movement that questioned the foundations of our society and a country at war, speak. Hair opens with the soothing and rousing anthem of “Aquarius”, a celebration of love and peace, paving a way for a cluster of characters to introduce themselves to the audience and address their concerns: air pollution, racial equality, and free love, in addition to protesting the Vietnam War.
The all-loving Berger, a self-claimed “psychedelic teddy bear”, Steel Burkhardt, performs with a riveting passion. He seems to be the character most thoroughly installed in the hippie lifestyle, and as such is the freest, exuding an unparalleled purity of heart and mind, through his escape into a world illicit, illegal drugs to defy a society he was born into.
As is evident by the first act, Hair is not a musical renowned for its intricate plot. It focuses instead on songs reflecting the inner turmoil of the characters, their understandings of the world, and the connections they forge with each other and with the audience. Hair rides on and is born through its music.
Hair boasts no elaborate set changes—the perspective is created through the actions and songs of the characters alone. The carpet covering the stage gives off a cozy, familial feel of belonging; whether in an artistic light or a naive wishing, it poses a sharp contrast to the harsh reality of living on the streets.
Much of the beauty of Hair is created not through what it presents, but what it invokes in its audience. The live band on stage adds much to the realistic portrayal of the hippie lifestyle. In our current times we find parallels between the desperation and determination of the cast of Hair and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. In both, convention is defied and forgotten. But the key difference in the two is that Hair doesn’t just urge the world to stand up against something and defy it, it urges a new way of living. Of stripping away all taboo notions of sex, drugs, love, and war, and leaving only truth.
To a modern adolescent audience, the essence of Hair feels almost intangible in its complexity and blatant sexuality. In our generation, it’s hard to come by sexual jokes that can still faze us. But Hair gets under our skin. It shows no more sexual innuendoes than does any channel on cable television, yet it gives sexuality a name and a purpose; a life of its own, a symbolic reference to an escape from society for a group of people. Suddenly sexual freedom is more than a crude joke or an art form—it’s an emblematic reference to a way of living. It poses the question: why do we as a society make such a big deal of sex and drugs, but not of war and futile sacrifice? Hair strips down Broadway performance and mainstream society to its core, throws away all other forms of superficial beauty, and leaves only the truth, the pure beauty of the essence of the human spirit.
Hair, a story of a fight against established wrongs of a high-minded society, and a production of timeless quality and artistic taste in design, is a myriad of wild spirit and unconventional beauty in a changing world. ▪