'Hair'

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Any doubts that the revival of "Hair" that appeared last year in Central Park would lose something in the rarefied indoor confines of a Broadway theater can be immediately put to rest. If anything, the production has even more visceral impact at the Al Hirschfeld, where its youthful ensemble puts out so much blazing energy it's no wonder that half the audience feels compelled to join them onstage for the joyous bacchanalian finale.

It's funny how this Vietnam-era countercultural musical felt tired and dated upon its first Broadway revival a mere decade or so after it premiered but now feels so vital and immediate. This can be partly ascribed to contemporary parallels with the Iraq War, but it's mainly because of the freshness and vitality of the staging by director Diane Paulus and the sexily Dionysian choreography by Karole Armitage.

More song cycle than traditional musical, "Hair" features a thin story line revolving around the imminent induction of Claude (Gavin Creel) — the boy from Queens who likes to pretend he's from "Manchester, England" — and the romantic entanglements of the hippie tribe with whom he aligns.

What fuels the evening is the propulsive pop-rock score by Galt MacDermot (music) and Gerome Ragni and James Rado (lyrics) that is given a spectacular treatment in this production. From the opening strains of the psychedelically tinged "Aquarius" to the final heartbreaking cries of "Let the Sunshine In," it is delivered with unrelieved passion and conviction by the hard-driving onstage band and the dynamic cast.

Led by the sexy and charismatic Will Swenson as the devilish tribe leader Berger and Creel as the innocent Claude, the performers inhabit their roles with such conviction it's hard to believe they weren't even born when the show premiered more than 40 years ago. The musical highlights are too numerous to mention exhaustively, but they include Bryce Ryness' sly rendition of "Sodomy," Caissie Levy's wrenching "Easy to Be Hard," Sasha Allen's dynamic "Aquarius" and Allison Case's charming "Frank Mills."

Paulus has delivered a fully immersive staging in which the performers stride through the aisles, clamber onto the seats, climb into the side boxes and generally engage audience members as much as possible. I had my hair (or at least what's left of it) tousled and was the lucky recipient of a tight hug from one of the comely young actresses. (partialdiff)
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