PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hair Is That a Daisy in Your Rifle?

By Harry Haun
01 Apr 2009

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A vet of Brooklyn and Lestat, Swenson was undaunted by the musical demands. "This show is hard to sing. It's pretty rangy. The first song [the aforementioned "Donna"] is like being shot out of a cannon. It's really fast, and it goes extremely high. It's hard to breathe and run around and dance like a fool the whole time."

His Berger is the hard-driving force of the show — an utterly out-of-control, hedonist hippie kingpin. "Just crazy" is Swenson's simple take on the part. "He's one of the best characters I could ever hope to play, a loose cannon. He's all about The Moment and the party and the fun. His energy comes from a place of love, but he's still pretty dangerous. There's a lot of improvisation with the character."

Which allows him leeway to ad-lib a lot. "It's nice because it keeps the show fresh. Sometimes, you get bored doing the same lines and movements every night, but Hair is so loose we improvise. It's different every night. We get a lot of return people coming already, fans who come back and back just to see what the changes are."

Bryce Ryness, who physically looks like he should be playing Jesus Christ Superstar instead of Woof, had a saintly perspective on the role. "I like that I get to tell the truth," he said of the character. "I don't have to have a lot of noise to my performance. I don't have to accept these weird conventions. I just have to walk out and say a very simple line that I think that, at the end of the day, everyone wants to hear: 'We are all one, and I love you.' That's a huge blessing as an actor. When a show is about love and peace and forgiveness and understanding, to say to the audience, 'I love you, and I'm glad we're here together' is a great thing."

The out-of-nowhere showstopper, "Frank Mills," proved a personal tribute for Allison Case, who arrived at the party in post-show afterglow: "The audience was giving us just as much love as we were giving them, and it was such a beautiful, beautiful night. We're so grateful and excited."

She was pleased to hear that the daughter of the woman who originated her role of Crissy was among the audience. In fact, Martha Plimpton was conceived when her parents (Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton) were in the first company of Hair. Carradine recently revealed he did a little Oscar-winning work on the side during that run by writing a love song, "I'm Easy," that was used years later in "Nashville."

Kacie Sheik, who plays the tribe's knocked-up earth mother, Jeanie, arrived sans child. "I left it in the dressing room," she laughed. "I left all three bellies in the dressing room. There's an Act I belly and a naked belly, and there's an Act II belly."

Sheik likes Jeanie's good heart most about the character. "She takes care of everyone. She puts them first. Everything is for the good of the tribe with her. She has eternal love flowing from her. To feel that every night is overwhelming."

Darius Nichols, Hair's formidable Hud, left his hair in the dressing room — a seven-inch Afro — and was barely recognizable off-stage with his natural burr cut. "It's funny, most people don't recognize me," he admitted. "When I come out of the stage door, it's very easy for me to kinda sneak away if I want to.

"I love the comment people make that he's so unlike me, but Hud is in there somewhere. I just had to find him. He speaks his mind, and he reads a lot, but at the same time, he doesn't take his anger out on the other members of the tribe. Basically, he is talking about a lot of bad experiences with Caucasians, but he doesn't take that out on his friends. He takes people as who they are. And he's such a flirt — with everyone, on stage and off. I try to pick out someone in the audience I know is probably going to blush and go for her. That's become one of my favorite moments."

Sasha Allen, in her Broadway debut as Dionne, set the bar for the show with a soaring rendition of "Aquarius" right at the beginning. "It's a hard song," she conceded, "but it's so empowering, and it really brings the audience in." [Amen!]

The glittery procession of first-nighters included Melba Moore (Dionne from the original stage Hair of 1968), Annie Golden (Jeanie in the Milos Forman movie "Hair" of 1979), Audra McDonald (there for her 110 in the Shade co-stars, Swenson and Nichols), Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel, cartoonist Garry Trudeau and Jane Pauley, astrologer-chanteuse Shelley Ackerman (who told Caroline Kennedy she was sorry Kennedy wasn't her senator), Elaine Stritch, music advisor Rob Fisher, Cabaret's Joel Grey, Tim Robbins, Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry (checking out the competition in the direction category?), Lily Rabe and Jill Clayburgh, Michael Feinstein, drag queen Bebe Zahara Benet (in splashy star-spangled attire), Diane von Furstenberg, composer Frank Wildhorn and ex Linda Eder (at separate tables), Blythe Danner, "Today" co-host Hoda Kotb and The Seafarer Tony winner Jim Norton (who struck critical gold last week as the Finian in the Encores! edition of Finian's Rainbow.