The ’60s were a crazy yet influential time in our country’s history. People were fighting for their civil rights at home while debating America’s involvement in a growing conflict abroad, striving to find a place in this world that they could call their own. Half a century later, not much has changed. So reviving the 1967 American tribal love-rock musical Hair at the Hollywood Bowl for a three-night-only run this weekend has a special resonance beyond the potential to see famous people get naked on stage. And though stars like Kristen Bell, Amber Riley, and Sarah Hyland did not take it all off, they lead a spectacular cast of film and TV stars returning to their roots—theatrically if not follicle-wise.
Directed and choreographed by Hairspray’s Adam Shankman, the production departs from the recent Broadway revival of the show. For one thing, the cast of 35 flower children only had two weeks to rehearse, which probably explains the ensemble’s lack of cohesiveness. Luckily, individual performances shine bright. As Dionne, Glee‘s Amber Riley initially seems uncomfortable on stage belting “Aquarius” at the top of the show, but she seems more in control by her second-act number “White Boys.” Riley’s Glee costar Jenna Ushkowitz, who appeared on Broadway in Spring Awakening, shines as pregnant pothead Jeanie, completely embracing her character’s wackiness.
Ushkowitz is not the only Broadway alum at the Bowl. Pre-Modern Family, Sarah Hyland played young Jackie Bouvier in the original Broadway cast of Grey Gardens. Hyland’s sweet soprano was a highlight in “Frank Mills” and “Electric Blues.” She also had the support of costars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sofia Vergara (with her boyfriend, Joe Manganiello) in the audience on Friday night.
Benjamin Walker, who originated the title roles in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on Broadway and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on film, plays hippie leader Berger pretty much the same way everyone else has played him — but he’s nice to look at in a loin cloth. Weeds star Hunter Parrish steals the show as Claude, a young man so ambivalent about his future that he enlists in the Army because his parents (and the world) convince him it’s the right thing to do. When Parrish returns to the stage, dressed in military uniform and sporting a buzzed haircut, he still elicits an audible response from the audience of 17,000.
Then there was that time a Disney princess was protesting Vietnam. As talented as Kristen Bell is, it’s hard not to hear Frozen‘s Princess Anna when she sings as Sheila. Bell, who’s pregnant with her second child with husband Dax Shephard (seen dancing in the audience), does good job in what this production presents as a relatively small role.
Other highlights include singer Mario as smooth-talking Hud and Kevin Chamberlain as Margaret Meade. Unfortunately, Beverly D’Angelo seems out of her depth as Claude’s mother, improvising lines in awkward moments and almost ruining the emotional ending with some audacious overacting. The Hollywood Bowl is a big venue, so maybe she’s just trying to make sure everyone can see her. That could also explain why the prop department uses a joint the size of a newborn baby for Claude’s big second-act psychedelic trip.
The message of Hair is pretty clear: “Be free, no guilt, be whoever you are, do whatever you want…just as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” For a guilt-free summer night in southern California, there really is nothing like the Hollywood Bowl. And Hair embodies that spirit — and more than most musicals especialy lends itself to outdoor performance. As the onstage hippies sing to the heavens to let the sun shine in, you can’t help but want to get up and do the same.