Since Hair burst onto Broadway in 1968, it has become a staple of American musical theater, inspiring countless good and bad productions, from amateur college romps to professional send-ups.
This weekend, Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts will host the national tour of director Diane Paulus' 2009 Tony Award-winning revival of Hair, an iconic 1960s psychedelic romp through the angst and pain of a young "tribe" of hippie types struggling to make meaning of their lives in the tumultuous decade of free love, civil rights marches and war protests.
Paulus' version of Hair might not be the Hair you think you know — it's been significantly updated for modern audiences, a process that started with a celebration of Hair's historical impact.
In 2007, Paulus got a call from the Public Theater in New York, which mounted the original 1967 off-Broadway production, about directing a 40th anniversary concert.
The concert's success led to a full-scale remount in New York's Central Park. That led to a transfer to Broadway, a Tony Award for best revival of a musical, and, beginning this year, a national tour.
Part of the revival's success has been Paulus' collaboration with lyricist James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot on a revised script.
Reclaiming lines that had been axed from the original off-Broadway show, deleting jokes that wouldn't play so well with today's audiences, and generally tightening the script, Paulus received praise for a serious, moving restructuring of the now classic musical.
"Ms. Paulus elicits the shadows amid the starshine without ever imposing the irony of hindsight," wrote The New York Times' theater critic Ben Brantley.
Like most touring acts, the cast is not composed of the actors from the Broadway cast, but the show is otherwise essentially the same. That's a point underscored by actor Brian Crawford Scott, who plays George Berger, a free-spirited buddy of the recently-drafted Claude, whose conflict over whether to go to war in Vietnam becomes a central plot point.
"The production is the same production," Scott says, "the same set pieces, the same costume pieces. The direction is the same though the cast is a little bit smaller."
Paulus' revival of Hair looks into how a restlessly, conflict-ridden period of American history affected its youth; the show is not a throwback, but speaks to contemporary issues, something Scott and his castmates were aware of as they rehearsed for the national tour.
"All of us discussed that even though the play is set in 1967, the themes of the play — peace, love, the entrenchment in a war, the struggle for civil rights — are painfully relevant," he says.
"We are in the Middle East instead of Vietnam and the civil rights we are struggling for are for same-sex couples," Scott says. "We're fighting so many of those same battles today."
Hair's musical numbers like Age of Aquarius have been absorbed into popular music's collective consciousness, but the show might be most famous for is its brief group nude scene.
Does Paulus' production of Hair show the full monty?
Yes, it does. But carefully and tastefully, Scott explains.
"The original nudity was controversial but important," Scott says of the 1960s production, "and we have maintained it."
"That moment in the show is not about sexuality, it's not gratuitous," he says, describing it as brief moment of vulnerability that is "very powerful."
IF YOU GO
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 2; 1 p.m. Feb. 3
Where: Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville
Tickets: $38-$75. Available by calling (859) 236-4692 or 1-877-448-7469 or at Nortoncenter.com.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.