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hippy dippy

May 7, 2010

Thanks to a friend’s sister, I had the opportunity to see Hair for free last night. I did not know it premiered at the Public (both times), and that the original cast (of the most recent production) is now in London. Two of the replacement leads happen to be American Idol alums Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. And I say “happen” even though it’s quite obvious that they draw crowds.

I’m not in love with the pop-rock singing that seems to be all the rage on Broadway these days. It’s all about the money notes, and that is not something that can sustain an entire show. It gets old real fast, and if there’s not also great acting and an interesting story, it gets kind of lame. Yes, it’s thrilling to hear those belted out barn-burners, because you tell they’re at the very limits of their vocal ranges, and there’s something visceral when you hear that kind of power. But I also want nuance and beauty, and belting is not always beautiful. A lot of the time, it’s just loud.

A major disappointment was how few words I could understand. I didn’t know what the storyline was, or if there was one, until at least halfway through the first act. I expect not to understand every word in classical music because it’s often in a foreign language, and also often in upper registers where it can only be sung with modified vowels. But sung English in musical theater should be understandable. Eminently understandable. Yet this show was not.

As much as I hate to admit it, the Idol kiddos can sing. DeGarmo’s acting was way over the top, especially leading up to her big second song, but I could not take my eyes off of her. She is gorgeous, and she can sing. I think she missed the point of the second song and made it all about wailing away at the top of her lungs, but there is something winning about her.

The other impression I was let with was a similar feeling to when we saw the NYU kids in the experimental theatre wing perform Walk, a new work by Taylor Mac and Talking Band. At one point, the kids were literally running around the stage, yelling. In the small room, it was overwhelming. I sat there thinking: Wow, that is a heck of a lot of energy. Those kids are so young. I am sitting here watching “theatre,” but it’s really just a bunch of kids running around yelling at me. Is this theatre? To what purpose?

Ultimately, neither works were my favorite theatre experiences I’ve ever had, but I also came away with little nuggets, small bits of each piece, that were beautiful and moving and wonderful. That is what theatre is for.

P.S. The nudity was totally underwhelming and not shocking in the least. Well, perhaps it was shocking in that they all looked like real people, and I’m not sure we see real bodies much in our flesh-saturated world.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2010 5:30 pm

    I have to say that I never got into Hair when it came out (and I’m someone who had long hair). It just seemed hedonistic and self-indulgent to me. I thought that people should be working together to end the war and address social injustice and racism, and the musical just seemed to be about style. I did like some of the musical numbers, however.

    I saw a version in Paris–which in the end was disappointing because one couldn’t sing along with it since it was in French. Everyone got up on stage and danced after it was over.

  2. Julia permalink
    May 9, 2010 8:31 pm

    Hair, from an Iowa maiden’s point of view, was exotic and secretly ‘shocking.’ I didn’t see it live when it came out. I did see it at SMCM a couple of years ago and realized that the young faculty couple in front of me weren’t even born when it came out!! Boy did that make me feel historic!

    I remember my conservative brother Charlie experimenting with a Nehru jacket! We all were given permission to push the edges of a very tight envelope!

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