Gerome Ragni John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[As an off-Broadway production] Hair was an unpretentious, charming, swinging little musical. Not without flaws, it was nevertheless youthful, zestful, tuneful, and brimful of life. In its new, Broadway version, it is merely fulsome. What happened? It would seem that the new producer was hellbent on giving uptowners a sensational revelation of how it really is; as part of that endeavor, he hired Tom O'Horgan [as director]…. Given his first go at Broadway, he was, like the producer, out to épater les bourgeois for all he was worth …; but, at the same time, care had to be exercised only to titillate the middle class, not to offend it. So, with shock and inoffensiveness as its contradictory aims, Hair was off on an internal collision course.

Typically, nudity, perversion, four-letter words were built up, whereas the story with its anti-war but also anti-bourgeois bias was either soft-pedaled or transmogrified into stingless farce, when not, actually, thrown out altogether. Thus there appeared throughout the original Hair a burlesque middle-class couple, who were also the hero's parents, but mostly the epitome of smug squareness. These figures have been turned into a transvestite posing as a bourgeoise with a castrato sidekick; or, in the family scene, a father and mother each in triplicate, the main third of the mother again a man in drag. The wistfully comic and, granted, somewhat uninspired plot has yielded to something worse: pseudoimprovisatory extravaganza. Even such a fetchingly bittersweet number as a girl hippie's lament for a lover who just yipped in and out, surrounded by all those overproduction values, loses its fragile nostalgia. (p. 268)

[It] is a Hair both overgrown and shorn; but for those who missed it downtown, still guardedly recommended. (p. 269)

John Simon, "Hair Pollution," in Commonweal (copyright © 1968 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 9, May 17, 1968, pp. 268-69.