STAGE REVIEW : 'Hair' at 20--Still Combing It Out

Times Theater Critic

"T his is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius ... Age of Aquarius

The first was that the show simply wasn't ready. A new director, John DiFusco, had joined the production, and he obviously needed more time to shape it to his vision. This was a preview-level performance, with microphones squeaking, the audience sweltering (the air conditioner is supposed to be installed by next week) and the company still settling into its roles.

Not just into its individual roles, but into its collective identity as a hippie tribe. Thursday, this was still an assortment of '80s performers of varying degrees of talent imagining what it must have been like to hang out in the East Village during the '60s.

You thought of "Star Search" more than actual sidewalk types. James Short, for instance, suggests Rambo more than he does Berger. There's no reason that Berger can't have a great build, but he mustn't seem to be pushing people in the tribe around, especially not the girls. "Hair" is supposed to be about being gentle.

Gary Michael Davies handles Claude's songs well, but seems a bit mature for the role--not necessarily too old for it, but too canny. Claude does tend to look ahead (if Berger is Huck Finn, he's Tom Sawyer), but the computer shouldn't be going every minute.

Tempo was a big problem Thursday night. DiFusco's cast realizes that the musical numbers have to be performed to a beat, and they generally deliver. But they seem to think that the spoken scenes can be taken at whatever tempo and voice level suits them individually, and spoken to the floor.

As a result, the show keeps leaking energy. The sexiest thing about Tom O'Horgan's original production wasn't the nude scene, but its steady build to the final ecstasy of "Let the Sunshine In." This show keeps stopping and starting.

"Hair" is tempo. One is never so aware of it as when it's missed. But the production does have a good beat when the music kicks in, for which we can thank musical director Steven Bernstein; co-choreographers Alexandre Magno and Kit Fredericks, and performers like Linda Jackson--a wicked Aretha Franklin in "White Boys."

There is talent here, including design talent. Costume designer Lorrie Davis has scoured the thrift shops for the right bell-bottoms and love beads, and set designer Robert W. Zentis transforms the theater into a living starmap, dominated by a moon that could also be an egg or a spacecraft, a mother-ship for the Age of Aquarius.

When the audience joins the cast on the stage at the finale, you can almost believe it's 1968. Especially if you weren't there.

Plays Thursdays-Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $16-$17.50. 660 N. Heliotrope Ave., (213) 466-1767. 'HAIR'

A 20th-anniversary production of the musical, at the Heliotrope Theatre. Book and lyrics Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Music Galt MacDermot. Producer Robert J. Linden. Director John DiFusco. Musical director Steven Bernstein. Choreography Alexandre Magno, Kit Fredericks. Set and light design Robert W. Zentis. Costume design Lorrie Davis. With James Short, Scot Free, Gary Michael Davies, Gerald K. Cox, Jeff McConnell, Todd Garner, Joanie Burton, Rain Pryor, Mary Margaret Patts, Jennifer Nestegard, Duitch Helmer, Nicholas Sims, Michael Pasby, Troy Garner, Joel E. Hile, Marguerite L. Baca, Rozlyn Seay, Robin Skye, Katherine Chesney.

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