PLAYBILL ON RE-OPENING NIGHT: Hair—The Heirs of Hair

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON RE-OPENING NIGHT: Hair—The Heirs of Hair The second coming of the Age of Aquarius in a tad over two years dawned July 13 at the St. James Theatre, the revival of the Tony-winning revival of 2009's Hair.

Paris Remillard; guests Martha Wash, James Rado, Will Swenson and Audra McDonald
Paris Remillard; guests Martha Wash, James Rado, Will Swenson and Audra McDonald Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Flower children were out in full force—22 high-schoolers, sweet-faced and wide-eyed, were invited to the opening by one of the producers, John Johnson—okay, recruited to distribute buttons and buds to the first nighters (Hair-plugging political buttons and color-treated daisies). Occasionally, they would sing for their supper, vocalizing and emoting their little young lungs out with "Aquarius."

Inside, some marginally older 20-somethings were lifting their voices to Galt MacDermot's landmark score of mushrooming, uncharted melodies in the DNA of a couple of preceding generations. You can never say these kids never sang for their grandfathers. After 43 years, the show looks like the forerunner of all Broadway rock musicals. The music lingers, even the war-protesting tumult that triggered the show has long since slipped into history. Hair is heeding at the St. James the hospitable vibes of its last counterculture tenant, American Idiot.

MacDermot, 82, was promised for the re-premiere but didn't show, leaving the spotlight to 78-year-old James Rado, who wrote the show's book and lyrics with Gerome Ragni, who died in 1991 at the much-too-young-age of 55.

Rado has the headband and aura of someone who has never quite left that flower-child era. Unlike most authors of a prestigious masterpiece, he came in his best black T-shirt with HAIR spelled out on a license plate. That was his poetic license.

"I was totally moved," he was quick to admit. "I was totally moved. I had a catharsis. I cried. It was because of the work of one of the central actors—although everybody was great. You can't even say what they're doing. It's just magical what actors do." Only two of the revival's original lead performances remain—Darius Nichols's intimidating Hud and Kacie Sheik's needy Jeanie. "I've been pregnant for several years now," she mused. "I was pregnant through six openings." When it was suggested she might want to reword that, she amended it to "six opening nights."

She was happy with the evening's performance. "I think they had a good time. That's how we have a good time. We can feel it. We can feel it coming out of the audience."

[flipbook] About playing this wilty little flower child who reels around the commune like a pinball she says, "I just kinda bear down every night and try to feel my feet just planted on the ground. This is a real story. There was a real girl this happened to back in New York in 1967. They wrote the story off the street. I've met the person, and I've met the women who originated the role in different companies."

Nichols directed a lot of Hud's sexual heat at a lady on the aisle in the second row, who turned out to be the singer who got the previous Hair off to such a soaring start with "Aquarius": Sasha Allen. She returned his serve wickedly.

He loved the tour and plans to stick it out till the bitter end, around Halloween. "This country is so vast and so different. It's like each state is almost a different country. It's been wonderful to experience that—especially as an amateur photographer, which I am, just walking around the city, just seeing different things."

Paris Remillard, who took over the role of martyred soldier-boy Claude, saw different things on the tour. "The cities were one big hotel room, especially for me. I'm very monk-like in my process. ‘I'm not on vacation. I'm working.' I go to the theatre. I go to the hotel. I make sure I'm rested so I can do the show. That's my whole plan."

His understudy, Nicholas Belton, serves as the tribe chief and counts this as his "second Broadway debut—with the same show. So it's 2.0." And, after all this time, he doesn't tire of taking his clothes off in public. "It's actually a nice breeze after an hour of getting sweaty and hot. It's a relief, like jumping into a cold pool."

The tribe's Wildman-in-residence, Berger, is now played by an actor with the inflexible macho moniker of Steel Burkhardt. He comes by it naturally in that "my parents gave it to me when I was born." Then, was it a difficult birth? "I don't think so. I was the last of three—although I do have pretty broad shoulders."

Before the upgrade, "I was Sitting Bull and I was the guy under all the lifts. Whenever you saw somebody being lifted on stage, I was the guy lifting them.

"It was incredible to have so many of my friends who were in the show, and my mother and father were in the audience. When I picked my mother up in the front row, it was actually my mother tonight. Her name is Donna Mertz, which, was kinda funny because I'm singing ‘[Looking for My] Donna' at the time."


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Another new character-comedian for Broadway named Josh (and aren't they all these days?)—Josh Lamon--has a dizzy dual role in the proceedings, criss-cross-dressing as Claude's four-square father and a wannabe with-in matron identified as Margaret Mead. At one point as the latter, he flings open her coat—flasher-style—baring his true gender in all its BDV glory, except for one unfortunate underwear malfunction in Los Angeles. "It was awful—the worst day of my life," Lamon roughly estimated. "When I open the jacket, people normally go, ‘Ohhh. Haha. It's a man. How fun!' This time, they just gasped in horror. When I got offstage, everybody was laughing. They told me what happened: The underwear was on, but—well, things sorta shifted as things tend to do. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life, and I can't believe I'm telling this to my favorite website."

Lee Zarrett, who was in the replacement cast on Broadway, has a high old time of it playing Hubert, the nerdy hubby, "because I love sharing the stage with Josh. We have so much fun. It's a blast." His other big moment is some hilarious revisional history as John Wilkes Booth, chased out of the theatre by a black, female Abraham Lincoln (a mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it anymore Lulu Fall).

Another who rose in the ranks—from swing to Woof—is Matt DeAngelis. "It's coming up on a little more than two years for me—I was the first new hire after the Tonys in 2009," he beamed proudly—and there was more pride where that came from: "It's a blessing to be able to do a show that really says something and that we legitimately feel changes the world every night—so we're a lucky group of actors."

Entertainment scribe Stephen Schaeffer pulled a Rex Reed, arriving with the evening's prize bauble on his arm: Natalie Mosco, an original original tribe member from '67. "I sang ‘Black Boys'—and ‘Shoeshine Boy,' which doesn't exist anymore," Mosco recalled with fondness.

Steel Burkhardt and Will Swenson
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The show was much the way she remembered, maybe even a little better. "I thought it was great. Plot-wise, it hasn't changed much, but I think it's more spelled out now in terms of writing because then we were all living that period. Now, we have to give it a frame for those who don't understand what the Vietnam War was all about. At the party, she was the only original standing, "but I see them all the time--Melba [Moore] and the rest." She was abuzz with Hair stats, old and new. Keith Carradine, Don Scardino and Steve Curry--all from Company One—were high-schoolmates of hers. Another tribesman, Eugene Blythe, is a big-deal casting director based in L.A. Their assistant director is now a Tony-winning director and one of Broadway's best: Dan Sullivan, and on and on.

Tony-nominated costumer Michael McDonald's rainbow-splattered duds were relatively inspired, he said—literally: "My oldest uncle was a hippie when I was a little kid back then so I sorta channeled my Uncle Glenn through all of it, but I did a lot of wonderful research as well, and Jim Rado gave me some beautiful resources."

His costumes are starting to show the ravages of the road, but that's a good thing in his view. "They're actually getting a little more beat-up as they wear them. It's the one time where rips and tears actually improve the quality of it. The patching becomes a new layer of the art, when they have to patch all of the costumes."

Topping the opening-night celebrity guest-list were Gail (Mrs. Joe) Papp, horoscopic chanteuse Shelley Ackerman, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, CBS-TV's Mo Rocca, entertainment lawyer Mark Sendroff (representing the evening's conductor, David Truskinoff), Race ‘n' Forum's David Alan Grier (who played Hud in a college production of Hair at the University of Michigan), Martha Wash and the soon-to-be "Glee"-less Lea Michele, who was practically hiding under her seat at intermission when reporters descended on her about the late-breaking news that she will depart the series after the third season.

Yep, she was party no-show. The elegant bash was held at the Sky Room Times Square, and its spectacular view from the 33rd floor revealed The New West Side, bludgeoning with glamorous skyscrapers that seemed to have grown overnight.

Sasha Allen and Kacie Sheik
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Original members from the last revival cast who fell by the wayside along the road turned up as a show of solidarity and support for their upgraded new tribesmen: Allison Case, Jackie Burns, Ato Blankson-Wood, Theo Stockman, Lauren Elder, Antwayn Hopper, Anthony Hollock, Megan Reinking (recently one of The People in the Picture) , Maya Sharpe, Jason Wooten, Wallace Smith, Jeanette Bayardelle, Kate Rockwell and Emma Zaks.

Natalie Bradshaw joined the re-gathering of the tribe as soon as she stopped swinging for Sister Act. "I saw it with the audience on Monday night, and it was amazing—so much fun. I didn't expect to be so emotional."

Also late-arriving from his new show was Will Swenson, the ferocious Tony-nominated Berger who hardly had a fabric to his name two years ago and now flies a stream of them as one of the Palace ladies-in-wanting in Priscilla Queen of the Desert--so how's that for a change of pace! "I do like changing things up," he admitted. His next disguise, for a film beginning next week, is Ares, the Greek god of war. (I told you the guy got around.) The picture is titled, deliciously, "Gods Behaving Badly," and it will star Christopher Walken, Sharon Stone, Edie Falco, John Turturro and Rosie Perez.

The gal he gets around with, Audra McDonald--they met at 110 in the Shade and melded—was at his side. She and Norm Lewis are deep into rehearsing Porgy and Bess for a Boston lift-off and Broadway sit-down. "It feels like ‘It's about time'—like I'm finally old enough to do it," she said of the role.

She inherited her fiance's brilliant director, but she said Diane Paulus won't be overhauling the Gershwin masterwork as radically as she did Hair. "You will recognize the show. It hasn't changed any way that you would recognize."

From first to last, Hair got an energetic, exuberant recital, and it was easy to spot the ones who fell effortlessly under its narcotic musical spell—like Oskar Eustis "lion king" of The Public who speared this revival of a show that virtually revolutionized the Broadway songbook. Rocking and weaving from side to side, back and forth, he seems deliriously happy to be so hirsute.

At the end of the evening, the cast let the sunshine—and the audience—in. Special steps were invitingly put down to facilitate the mad rush to the stage to revel with the actors. Mamma Mia!, eat your heart out!


Kacie Sheik, Phyre Hawkins, Paris Remillard, Steel Burkhardt, Caren Lyn Tackett and Matt DeAngelis take an opening-night bow.
Kacie Sheik, Phyre Hawkins, Paris Remillard, Steel Burkhardt, Caren Lyn Tackett and Matt DeAngelis take an opening-night bow. Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
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