When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the sixties. No, I don’t get it, either. No idea where it came from. No idea what planted the seed in my head or anything. Just that it was a full-blown obsession. It was all I cared about and all I wanted to read about and all I wanted to talk about. I WAS VERY ANNOYING. What? I still am? Yep, I know. But at least now I know when to shut it (at least in real life – on here I can say whatever because IT’S MY BLOG CHUMLEY.)
Things I was completely obsessed with, sixties related (not an all-inclusive list):
The Vietnam War
One night, our local PBS station was showing Hair. I didn’t know this was even a thing. (In my defense, I wasn’t even BORN until the mid-seventies. And I’m from a small town where we don’t get a lot of culture. And my parents didn’t do the sixties. They didn’t protest, they didn’t care. They were kind of like the book-banning woman in Field of Dreams that Annie attacks at the PTA meeting: “I EXPERIENCED the sixties!” “No, I think you had two fifties and moved straight onto the seventies.”)
Our local PBS station would air movies, unedited, very late at night. Like, 3am late. All the cussing and nudity. It was awesome. I got Alice’s Restaurant and The Breakfast Club that way and watched them until the tape wore out. (And, by the way, when I finally got to see Arlo Guthrie live – which I’ve done three times now, because the obsession might be gone, but I still love Arlo – I bawled like a toddler who lost his favorite toy down the drain. It was totally cathartic.)
I watched Hair the next day and I was HOOKED. This was all I watched for about two years straight. I was completely in love with this movie. This was pre-internet, so I wasn’t overly aware that it had been a very famous Broadway musical adapted into the movie, or that the movie was completely different from the Broadway show.
You probably all know a little about the musical. In case you don’t, and just because it’s fun and I know WAY too much about it, here’s some info. It opened off-Broadway in 1967 and on Broadway in 1968. The original production actually starred Martha Plimpton’s gorgeous look-alike mom, Shelley, as Crissy.
The story, in a nutshell: a tribe of hippies, led by George Berger, lives on the streets of New York City. One of the tribe, Claude, gets drafted. He waffles between running away and serving, ends up going, and is killed in service. The music is wonderful and touching and, if done correctly, the show is wonderful and joyous and life-affirming, yet melancholy. (Side note: one of the songs, “What a Piece of Work is Man,” was always a little confusing to me. Very different from the language of the rest of the show. Until I began studying Hamlet in college. I started reading one of his speeches and said, out loud, in the library, “THIS IS FROM HAIR.” Well, no, actually, the SONG was borrowed from Hamlet. “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…”)
The movie is different. They rewrote it for the screen. Berger falls in love with a society girl for some strange reason; Claude isn’t a fellow hippie but a farmboy in town to sign up for the military who falls in with the tribe; and the ending is completely different. And I don’t want to be sacrilegious? But I like the ending of the movie better. In the movie, Claude goes off to training, and Berger and the tribe come up with a scheme to get Claude laid before he’s shipped off to Vietnam. Berger shaves his trademark hair and sneaks into the camp, switches places with Claude, and no one in Claude’s unit says a word because they’re scared shitless of being shipped off and could care less about who’s going with them. Claude has sex with the society chick in a field and then the orders come in: the unit’s shipping out. NOW. Berger can’t say a word: according to his paperwork, he’s Claude now. He knows that even if he says he’s not, no one will believe him. So Berger, the pacifist who spent the whole movie railing against Claude signing up for the war, gets into the plane, looking very scared and very small, singing a reprise of an earlier triumphant song Claude sang, “Manchester, England,” one of the lines of which is “I believe in God, and I believe that God, believes in Claude – that’s me.” Only when Berger sings it, it takes on a whole new ominous meaning. Because he’s Claude now. He looks right at the camera and his voice breaks a little and he sings, realizing, “Claude. That’s me. That’s me.”
Berger dies and Claude takes over the tribe in his place and it is HEARTBREAKING. Yes, the ending of the musical is sad, too, of course. But something about that ending of the movie gets me every time.
The movie was actually directed by Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Man in the Moon, The People Vs. Larry Flynt) and stars: Annie Golden! I remember her from Assassins on Broadway (my favorite musical of all time, should anyone ask). She’s had bit parts here and there and always plays a crazy. She’s very distinctive with a kooky voice and I lurrrve her. Mrs. Garrett (fine, for those of you too young to remember her from Facts of Life, it’s a young Charlotte Rae)! She plays a socialite Berger rubs all over. It is awesomesauce. Nell Carter (middle person)! Gimme a break, her voice is fantastic. Mrs. Griswold! She is the socialite chick that bangs all the hippies.
And…as Berger, my hot boyfriend…before he got old and was in some show on the CW that I never watched and refuse to investigate the name of because I JUST DON’T CARE… TREAT WILLIAMS. Just look at him. You totally want to lick him. It’s ok. You can. You’d really be a fool not to.
ANYWAY. So, I have the cassette of the Broadway musical (which is as close as I can get to the recording of my beloved movie, isn’t young me a total philistine? And, Bee Tee Dubs, I STILL HAVE IT AND LISTEN TO IT TO THIS DAY DUM DUM DUMMMMM) and I get to college and, my senior year, the theater department puts on Hair. WELL! This is exciting. Since I left all of my credits until the last minute, I had to work on every single show they put up, so I was the head of the costume run crew.
Claude was a very handsome man who knew how handsome he was and therefore treated those around him with total and complete disregard and disdain. There’s a nude scene at the end of Act 1 (oh, did I not mention? Yes. The musical Hair is famous for the nude scene. End of Act 1, just before intermission, the tribe disrobes and stands there in all of its filthy naked glory. It is wonderful) and Claude didn’t put any undergarments on when he re-clothed himself during intermission. And we had a very quick change at the end of Act 2, because Claude runs off in full hippie regalia at the end of one song, puts on a FULL MILITARY UNIFORM, and comes back on (head shorn, which always gets gasps if the wig was a good one) to tell the tribe goodbye. I had approximately 45 seconds to go from hippie to inductee and, as the head of the crew, I was in charge of it since it was the most important change.
The first dress rehearsal night, Claude was having NONE OF IT. He said, “I’ll dress MYSELF” because he didn’t want me seeing him naked. “TURN AROUND” he hissed at me. Listen, sure, he was pretty, but he was also a dick (n0 pun intended), and I didn’t want ANYTHING to do with him. I was crushing pretty hardcore on a pale poet at the time, if I recall correctly. So he came on about five minutes later and I got read the riot act and he LET ME TAKE ALL OF THE HEAT. Because he was a COCK.
The next night, I prepared myself. He ran offstage and grabbed for the costume. I stopped him, knelt, and yanked down his pants. His dick in my face, I said, “I’ve seen a LOT better. Can we just get you onstage in time tonight?” He never looked me in the eye again, but he damn sure never fought me for changing rights. And we had him ready with time to SPARE from that point on. We had a SYSTEM DOWN. It was perfectly choreographed. I don’t think I’ve ever had something go so smoothly in my life.
Moral? Scare the shit out of someone and sometimes they will let you get done what you need to do. Them being naked helps.
Our production was good. So good, in fact, I didn’t see another staging of Hair until this year. The touring company came through Schenectady in the spring, and I went. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so jazzed about something in my life. It was FANTASTIC. It was done well, it was heartbreaking, it was cast perfectly, it was costumed perfectly (some of the original costume pieces, actually) and Berger – oh. Um. Yeah. Berger. This was our touring Berger: And listen, his name is STEEL BURKHARDT. I mean, can you GET any hotter than this? He was charismatic and I pretty much would have totally joined a Koolaid cult were he leading it.
All of this is prelude to the following: this weekend, I went to see another production of Hair. I’m not going to be mean. I’m totally not. I also am not, however, going to say where it was. If you know me, you can probably find out pretty quick where it was, but like I said, I’m not going to be mean. They tried REALLY HARD. Here were my issues.
- I love the show so much that it would really have to be stellar to live up to either my college production or the touring company or the movie. So that’s on me. Sorry, you guys.
- They JUST DID IT in Schenectady. Those people were PROFESSIONAL ACTORS. That’s so fresh in people’s minds! If they had waited even a year or two, it would have been such a better move! Let people forget Steel Burkhardt (you have to imagine that name with angel sounds, please) a little! (Yeah, right. As if I’ll ever forget Steel Burkhardt.)
- The costumes and actors WERE CLEAN. OK, this is a major pet peeve of mine, but I dig verisimilitude. And these are HIPPIES. Who live on the STREET. Would their bodies and clothes be Tide fresh? NO THEY WOULD NOT. Also, for no reason I could ascertain, one girl was wearing a chain-mail sleeveless floor-length cape thing. She looked like an escapee from a Renaissance festival. It was off-putting.
- Berger was trying SO HARD and I am really not trying to be mean but I don’t know if this was an actor thing or a director thing but listen, Berger is these people’s Charlie Manson, and did Manson’s followers follow him because he was nebbishy and kind of bothersome but eh, whatever, I guess he’s ok? NO. They followed him because his pores OOZED CHARISMA. The closest this poor Berger has ever come to charisma is masturbating to old episodes of Angel. (Shit. That was mean. I promised not to do that. Sorry, Charisma Carpenter.)
- OK, here’s my biggest problem. Since it wasn’t living up to expectations, I found a show boyfriend. This is what I do when I am not interested in a show but I have to finish it because I paid for it. I pick one person and I pay attention to their performance and they are my show boyfriend and, depending on my mood, I either just ogle them, or I make up elaborate scenarios of romance in my head with them, or something. Because, BORED. But there are RULES to show-boyfriendiness. For example, it can’t be the hottest guy in the show! Because EVERYONE would want him. And he would be out of my league. It can’t be someone very young, because that’s icky. It can’t be a girl because they don’t have a dick. (Although, let me tell you, it’s swung that way before, in a REALLY awful show. Bad shows have turned me into a lesbian. True fact.) It can’t be someone I know in real life unless I already have a little real-life crush on them because it’s easier to have a show-crush on a stranger. So, Claude was out because he was too pretty and therefore EVERYONE’S show-boyfriend; Berger was out for obvious reasons; Woof was out because seriously, you guys, I don’t think the kid went through puberty yet, when he had to sing “Sodomy” I felt SO BAD thinking of him at home at night looking up the nasty words and shuddering; and then I found my hot boyfriend. Random tribe member. With a beard. Oh, did I not mention my new obsession? Beards? It has only hit since I became old on my birthday earlier in the month. Last week, had a random crush on someone? Full beard. Today, show boyfriend? Full beard. I don’t know. Have never liked beards before. It’s an odd new thing and I don’t know either where it came from or if I’m down with it. Anyway, new bearded show-boyfriend. He was kind of adorable. And kind of looked like this only younger. I was smitten.
So I stared at Al-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvement throughout Act 1 until I realized a couple of things. 1 – I had a ROCKING seat. Second row house left, no one in front of me, no one in my row. Like, so close adorable Claude pointed and smiled at me in one song, and Sheila gave me a flower in another. 2 – NUDE SCENE WAS FAST APPROACHING. And I was right up front for all the action. THIS WAS MY LUCKY DAY. THE GD STARS WERE ALIGNED BABYYYYYY.
They all got in position. Some people chose to stay clothed – not my favorite choice, I feel like if you’re in Hair, you should embrace nudity, but whatever, their body, not mine – and realized Al-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvement was THE CLOSEST GUY STRIPPING IN FRONT OF ME. It was kind of dark, though. Like, there were no lights on. So I waited for the light booth to get it together while I squinted trying to check out little Al (OR WAS IT? WAS IT LITTLE? ONLY TIME WOULD TELL!) from my seat without looking like a total perv. (Um. Too late. I know.)
The lights never went on. At all. THE NUDE SCENE WAS DONE COMPLETELY IN THE DARK. Luckily, due to my awesome seat, and the fact that the band was directly in front of me and had little lights on so they could read their sheet music, I had enough ambient light to see a little bit – some lovely breasts, and the fact that Al would most likely not be disappointing anyone in the near future (but I would like ACTUAL LIT CONFIRMATION OF THAT, whoever makes such decisions. I mean, would you buy something online without reading the reviews? No, you would not. THIS IS THE SAME THING. What do you MEAN it’s not at all the same thing. OF COURSE IT IS.) Hair = nude scene. Why would you even have them take their clothes off if it’s going to be dark when they do it? There have been productions of this without the nude scene. It’s been done. It’s not unprecedented. That’s like smoking fake cigarettes onstage. Do it right, or don’t do it at all. We know when you’re faking, actors, and it SUCKS.
Overall, listen, it was NOT the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Like I said, they tried really hard. And they seemed to be having a really good time. Claude, Jeannie, a few of the tribe members (coughAl-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvementcough) and Sheila were quite good. The choreography was good. The singing was solid, overall. The set was nice. It was just poorly timed. And it didn’t seem like it had much at stake. This is a play about someone dying in a war we had no right to be in, that we had no reason to be in, that we were sending children to fight in, as well as homosexuality and teen pregnancy, and it played like children on a playground playing at hippies in Halloween costumes. And that was sad. It was Hair with any import erased. No consequences. No danger. Candy colors without substance.
I know. I’m a little tougher on this than the average theater-goer. I love it without reservation and when it doesn’t live up to my impossibly high standards I put on my cranky-pants. Sorry, cast and crew. Listen! THEY TRIED REALLY HARD.
Also, Al-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvement! Research (and ahem, SIDEBAR, does no one put their Facebook settings to private anymore? I mean sure, it totally makes it easy for me to stalk you, but then again? IT MAKES IT EASY FOR ME TO STALK YOU. I mean, listen, Al-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvement, we’re going to have to talk about this once we’re all coupley, because it’s worrisome. I could see EVERYTHING on your page. EVERYTHING) tells me you are WITHIN MY TARGET AGE RANGE, STRAIGHT, AND SINGLE. Ahem. I LIKE BEARDS, Al-but-not-Al-from-Home-Improvement. Also, you can use my new salt and pepper shakers. I WOULD LET YOU DO THAT. AMONG OTHER THINGS. I AM TOTALLY A GIVER. I would do a Craig’s List missed connection for you but listen, only CRAZY PEOPLE do those. THIS IS MUCH SANER. Spoiler alert, though, buddy – lights are staying on for our nude scene. Go big or go home. (I’d say that wasn’t a metaphor? But I’d be lying.)