Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Musical Interlude: "Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In," from "Hair", Arizona Theatre Company, 2008

Feeling a little better, so it's time for a good cry.

The videos ain't so good, but it's one of the finest contemporary productions of "Hair" there has been anywhere, and there isn't any other number in the American Musical Theatre that can reduce me to a blubbering wreck every time I hear it or see it performed.

"Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In" does that to a lot of people, and not just of my generation, surprisingly enough. It did it when I first saw the show in 1969 in San Francisco, and it's done every time I've seen the show since (in revivals in which the cast had no clue to what the show was about... oh, dear.) The one time it didn't do it was when I saw the movie. I could intellectually accept the transformations Milos Forman was making with this and other numbers and appreciate what he was doing, but when it came down to it, he had sucked almost all the emotion out of the show and left it just "a movie."

Much as I denounce Arizona for cause, this production of "Hair" -- which played in Tuscon and Phoenix -- was outstanding. Of course, they'll probably never do it again.

A side note about "tribalism." "Hair" was promoted as the "tribal love-rock musical," partly on the basis of how the casting was done (not looking for a lot of bubble-headed American Musical Theatre Perfessionals), and the kind of literal tribe the producers and directors were trying to create with every company, back from the very beginning. It wasn't entirely revolutionary at the time -- it was an adaptation from the Living Theatre -- but the way it was done with "Hair" seemed most successful.

The point of making the company into a tribe was primarily for cohesiveness, of course. It's not an easy show to approach or do, and it wasn't easy back in the day, either. It took courage and talent, but it took trust even more. At least at first, it didn't have stars. There was no "name part." The story was relatively simple, but it was complicated to tell it, and that complication made it a "star" vehicle for practically everyone in the cast. There was no chorus and first and second leads and all that, at the time, and still, typical of the Broadway Musical. Every moment counted.

There was another point to the tribe: bringing the audience into the show. Letting them join in, freely, uncoerced. It worked.

But then, as time wore on, casts became jaded, much of the glow and luster of the early productions dimmed. They became... "shows" almost like any other. Audiences could sense it even before the casts did in some cases.

"Hair" closed on Broadway well before the end of the Vietnam War. It was still playing on tour at home and abroad, but on Broadway, it had fizzled out.

At least by that time there wasn't any draft any more.

So there is that.

The first video above has been made private for some reason. This is a video of the same scene(s) from the 2009 Broadway revival of "Hair" -- the staging is almost identical, and I'm not sure, but I think the Claude is the same actor.

[Update: No, it's not the same actor playing Claude in Arizona and on Broadway. The Arizona Claude, whose video of him singing a knock-out performance of "Flesh Failures" is Kyle Harris; the Claude on Broadway (who was no less good) was Gavin Creel.]

No comments:

Post a Comment