Gerome Ragni Robert Brustein

Start Your Free Trial

Robert Brustein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Download Gerome Ragni Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The concept of a hippie musical with an electronic score is potentially very exciting, and I am convinced that the sound of rock—a sound that has developed real drive, sophistication and vitality—is destined to become of tremendous importance to our stage. But despite its effective moments, Hair is still too closely linked to the meretricious conventions of American musicals to realize this potential, and there is something intrinsically one-dimensional in the hippie movement which prevents the material from ever developing a texture of any thickness.

Since the hippies have recently become the victims of a vast publicity network, there is also something intrinsically voguish about their scene, and this gives one the recurrent feeling that Hair is going out of fashion even as it is being performed. Like Viet Rock—to which it owes its inspiration and even a few of its episodes—Hair is pieced together out of newspapers and magazine sections, being a topical series of allusions to contemporary politics and culture, designed less to convey information than to play imaginatively upon what is already known.

Some of this is entertaining, but in none of it do we sense that the authors have thought about or felt their material very deeply, and they are too mindless in their acceptance of the teenage version of reality. The nonhippie world is facilely identified as a society of Puritan Moms and Dads who love war and hate love; the hippies are full of self-pity, self-congratulation, and self-satisfaction; and the book and lyrics are continually threatening to fall into sentimentality ('Follow the children, follow their smiles'). Then, for all its concern with sensation, self-awareness, new levels of feeling, Hair never manages to communicate the nature of the experience the characters so frequently exalt. And finally, Hair conspicuously fails to record the growing conviction among hippies that the movement is over—a victim of a grosser and more brutal world than flower power can redeem.

If Hair does not represent a revolution in musicals, however, it does point the way towards such a revolution. It will be very hard, in future, to compose a Richard Rodgers-type work with quite the same confidence and equanimity as before. In this sense, then, Hair succeeds not so much for what it accomplishes as for what it sets out to do. For a permanent theatre, a good search can sometimes be as rewarding as a good discovery…. (p. 52)

Robert Brustein, "Waiting for Hamlet" (© copyright Robert Brustein 1968; reprinted with permission), in Plays and Players, Vol. 15, No. 4, January, 1968, pp. 51-2.∗