'Hair' captures raw energy, vitality of 60s; but needs some glossing

In 1964, New York actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni decided to transport the sexual freedom and anti-war sentiments of their East Village neighborhood to the stage. The result was “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” a show that extolled the virtues of peace, love and racial harmony while casting a cold eye on the horrors of Vietnam.

This year, 7 Stages founders Del Hamilton and Faye Allen decided to celebrate their theater’s 30th anniversary by bringing the tie-dyed vibe of Little Five Points into the theater. Their production of the psychedelic, socially activist “Hair” is the perfect response to this moment in history, and one that manages to capture the raw energy and youthful vitality of a street bacchanal. To use one of the dominate metaphors of “Hair,” it’s a shining, gleaming, long, messy and out-of-control affair.

Though this spontaneous mood is essential to the material and no doubt intentional, the show often feels more like a good college production than a well-crafted professional endeavor. On opening night, the sound system was plagued with glitches, and the unevenness of the ensemble was glaring. Based on Fracena Byrd’s rendition of the breakout opening number, “Aquarius,” it’s safe to say that Jupiter has not aligned with Mars.

Still, the young company’s joy is obvious and infectious, and when they are dancing with full-throttle abandon at the “be-in,” you can’t help but feel the love. (Direction is by Hamilton and choreography by Hylan Scott.) If you’ve been watching the orgiastic Dionysian rites on HBO’s “True Blood,” it’s kind of like that, without the darkness. (For the record, the ensemble does disrobe for the famous nude scene at the end of Act One, but the lighting is dim, and for better or worse, the whole thing is over in a flash.)

Backed by an on-stage band that’s more grunge rock than lush electronica, the ensemble does feature some nice work from Jacob Wood (as the conflicted central character, Claude), Naomi Lavender (Sheila) and Chris Love (making his acting debut as Hud). As Woof, a sexually ambiguous character with a crush on Mick Jagger, Jason Royal is one of the stronger supporting players, and the lovely Dorothy Victoria Bell (Dionne) has a wonderful voice and shows off her versatility as an Asian enchantress (“Give Up All Desire”).

Opening on Broadway in 1968 and currently enjoying a New York revival, “Hair” (with music by Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Rado and Ragni) broke the conventions of the book musical with its harem-scarem story line and convoluted, almost random plot. The writers never met a sex or drug pun they didn’t like.

But the show retained vestiges of vaudeville, and the trippy dream sequence that trots out George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Clarke Gable, Scarlett O’Hara and Aretha Franklin remains a theatrical tour-de-force: subversive, racially charged and haunting. The company pulls off this hallucinogenic nightmare with aplomb.

It’s not exactly earth-shattering news to say the hippies are back in Little Five. In many ways, they never left. So if 7 Stages can iron out the technical snafus of this production, it’s likely to be a big hit with the late-night, rebel-rousing crowd. If you’ve never seen “Hair,” it won’t do you any harm to pull on your bell-bottoms, flash a peace sign at the box office and check it out.