Hair recalls a bygone clash of generations

The classic rock musical Hair made its way to Heinz Hall as a part of the PNC Broadway Across America National Tour last week. As the curtains opened Tuesday night, the backdrop of a neon sun with a Vietnam War-era jeep parked on the corner of the stage readied audience members to put on their psychedelic glasses and prepare to be transported to the 1960s.

Calling for peace and freedom now, with posters like “Lay Don’t Slay” and “I saw God and She’s Black,” Hair attacks pressing issues of the 1960s. The story is centered around Berger (played by Nicholas Belton in Tuesday’s production), Clide (Paris Remillard), and their tribe of hippie friends. Berger first introduces himself as an Aquarius. According to him, Aquarians are destined for greatness or madness. Living in the 1960s, it seems that his statement is meant to apply more broadly to the generation as a whole.

Both Berger and Clide are Vietnam bait. After receiving their draft cards, they must decide whether to burn their draft cards or serve their country. They question dying for a country they are not accepted in and for a cause they don’t believe in. They believe that the draft is “white people sending black people to make war on yellow people who stole [land] from red people.”
Berger, Clide, and the rest of their tribe are disillusioned by society, their parents, and religion. They find their own form of protest through long, unruly hair. Hair becomes their religion. Hair differentiates them from streamlined society and their parents’ generation.

The clash of generations is just one of the many themes that the musical deals with. Clide’s father angrily tells Clide that America “had another generation before you that went to war and college.” Clide, on the other hand, sees his parents as woefully out-of-touch “electronic dinosaurs” and “cybernetic idiots” who do not understand what he is protesting against.

Hair is meant to be controversial and inspire emotion and thought. In the first act, Berger tells the audience up front to “turn on your eyes, ears, skin [because] this is a trip to live through.”

During intermission, audience member Maggie Luther described Hair as a “very interactive experience — an in-your-face musical.” At different points, the actors led protests down the aisle, distributed flowers through the rows, and even embraced select ticket holders.

Hair underwent a revival in 2009. Two Carnegie Mellon alumni — Andrew Kober (CFA ’06) and Tommar Wilson (CFA ’99) — both won Best Revival of a Musical awards for their efforts in this rendition of Hair. While the signature moments of Hair have stayed the same, the 2009 edition slightly edited the script to give women a greater dialogue and to explore a longer hallucinogenic sequence in the second half.

Luther believes that the updated show has been able to retain its relevancy in today’s world. “It pertains [to] people still fighting to be free and express themselves,” she said. “Especially like the situation occurring in Egypt today.”

Audience member Stever Tamulsa thought that this version “looks different, but feels similar.” He believed that “_Hair_ translates well over time. The only thing,” he said, “was that I felt like they hadn’t modernized it. Not being modernized didn’t deter from the production though.”

Audience member Phil McEntee remembered seeing the musical when it first came out. Watching it again, he felt that it “seem[ed] dated and a little bit naive, but the basic principles are the same. Like the Beatles say, ‘Love is all there is,’ and this is all about love. The musical recalls a time that has gone by, and by seeing it tonight, I get to re-live that.”