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The Age of Aquarius

Apr 18, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

'Hair' was a sensation in 1967, and it remains unique in 2013

That the hippie musical "Hair," which begins its second and final three-day run at Central Wyoming College on Friday, still makes some people uncomfortable is a tribute to the play.

We are talking about a musical that is almost 50 years old now, a play that can be viewed just as easily as a history lecture these days as current commentary -- which it most certainly was when it opened in New York in 1967.

"The first rock and roll musical," it was dubbed. "The first hippie musical," was another label ascribed to it. Back then, rock music, while no longer brand new, was still young. The Beatles were still together, for instance. And hippies were exotic, threatening creatures to many Americans.

This was a Broadway era in which "The Sound of Music" was still fresh in the minds of theatergoers. This was the era of "Fiddler on the Roof," "Hello Dolly," "Oliver" and "Mame."

So to see a cast of much younger actors, none of whom was a previous Broadway star, performing decidedly non-traditional songs, sporting the long hair and the disheveled clothes of their parents' nightmares, and talking about "anti-establishment" themes that included opposition to the Vietnam War, well, that was the kind of thing that made the well-heeled Broadway theater patron pretty nervous.

But the Broadway musical, which can strike some viewers as corny or contrived, actually has been a powerful vehicle for social commentary, even transformation. Delicate and thorny subject matter has been the genre's stock and trade for a century. Broadway musicals invited audiences to confront issues of race, immigration, gender equality, unfair labor and business practices, aging, crime, isolation and loneliness, and politics.

In that vein, then, the arrival of "Hair" continued a great Broadway tradition -- but, no, this sure wasn't "Man of LaMancha."

Even now, when the original hippies are in their 60s ad 70s, "Hair" can ruffle some feathers. CWC's production has been toned down a bit from the original material, partly in reflection of the cast members, many of whom are still teenagers.

But this also is acknowledgment of the play's staying power, its continuing relevance decades after it arrived on the scene.

In some ways it seems oddly quaint now, which has added a new ingredient to its appeal. Above all, however, it remains unique. It remains challenging. It remains provocative.

And one more thing: It remains tremendously fun and entertaining. No musical endures through 46 years of continuous performance unless it delivers -- really delivers -- to the audience.

So don't let any preconceptions or tired-out worries prevent you from seeing "Hair." Go ahead. Buy a ticket, and let the sunshine in.

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