Gerome Ragni Clive Barnes - Essay

Clive Barnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If only good intentions were golden, "Hair" … would be great. As it is it is merely pretty good; an honest attempt to jolt the American musical into the nineteen-sixties, and a musical that is trying to relate to something other than Sigmund Romberg.

If it had a story—which to be honest it hasn't—that story would be about the young disenchanted, turned on by pot, switched off by the draft, living and loving, the new products of affluence, the dispossessed dropouts. That, if it had a story, would be what "Hair" is about.

But "Hair" is sparing storywise—as someone might say. A boy wants to get to bed with a certain girl before he is drafted—yet that is not what "Hair" is all about. Much more, it is a mood picture of a generation—a generation dominated by drugs, sex and the two wars, the one about color and the one about Vietnam….

The intention is clear enough—to show a generation that has freaked out of the American "bedrock foundation of baths and underarm deodorant." The picture given, however, is only honest in parts, for the authors not only have little or no interest in dramatic structure, they are also easy prey for the first shiver of theatrical exaggeration that strikes them….

Dancing, singing, swinging, prancing, the open stage becomes [the cast's] arena for protest—and although reality is always quite a long way away, it is always just near enough for you to be uncomfortably aware how far away it is. This is a pity but "Hair" is still very much worth seeing….

[Charm] is perhaps the key to "Hair." The enthusiasm of its actors, the zest of its music and the very bustle of its somewhat purposeless action, are the things that make it attractive.

Clive Barnes, "Contemporary Youth Depicted in Play," in The New York Times (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 30, 1967 (and reprinted in The New York Times Theatre Reviews, The New York Times Company, 1971).