Two Broadway shows shared the triple crown of major awards this spring. “Hair” won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical and “God of Carnage” was similarly rewarded as Outstanding New Broadway Play. Tickets are scarce for these monster hits, but if you’re planning a trip into the city this summer you might consider these shows as an option; see ticket tips at the end of these reviews.
‘Hair,” subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” created a sensation when it first opened on Broadway in 1968 and eventually ran more than four years. This ground-breaking musical presented its message of love and peace as a concerted musical protest of prevailing government and social policies. It surged joyously and passionately with anti-establishment sentiments, mainly those exemplified and empowered by hippies and “flower children.”
“Hair” also validated rock as theater music. Its score by Gerome Ragni & James Rado (book & lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) may be one of the most beloved and familiar in the American musical theater canon. The Public Theater’s out-of-doors revival one year ago in Central Park proved that the show still had plenty to say and sing about. Rave reviews complimented the exuberantly fresh direction of Diane Paulus, the all-new choreography of Karole Armitage, and the terrific cast.
The great news is that nothing has been lost in the transfer: the show looks as great within the walls of the Al Hirschfeld Theater as it did al fresco under the stars. The Tony Awards, the Drama Desk, and the Outer Critics Circle voted it the Outstanding Musical Revival of the season. Despite a few cast changes, the current tribe is continuing its affirmation of peace, love, and its defense of human rights and freedoms. The band is now onstage, and Scott Pask has created a simple but effective environment, one that serves as a perfect showcase for Michael McDonald’s colorful costumes.
The great news is that Will Swensen is continuing his dynamic performance as Berger. Gavin Creel is wonderfully personable as his best friend, Claude (the role played in the park by Jonathan Groff). If anything, the show has an even greater emotional pull now with a cast that includes Bryce Ryness as Woof, Darius Nichols as Hud, Allison Case as Crissy and Caissie Levy as Sheila. Continuing their outrageously funny shenanigans are Andrew Kober as Dad/ Margaret Mead and Megan Lawrence as Mother/Buddahdahdalirana.
“Hair” seems to be committed more than ever to involving the audience from the thrilling opening number “Aquarius,” through to the audience-included finale “Let the Sun Shine In”: An invitation for everyone to get up and dance with the cast onstage as well as in the aisles. It is amazing to see how much the spirit of the hippie era exists in us whether one was there or yet to be born. There has certainly been no Broadway show in memory that has inspired such joyous interaction between the cast and the audience. The constant effusion of love, as expressed in “Hair,” through its music and dance and also in its heartbreaking drama is an experience that is not to be missed.****
“Hair,” Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th Street. $37 to $122 (premium seat price $252). 212-239-6200.
‘God of Carnage’
French playwright Yasmina Reza has another huge international hit with “God of Carnage.” In addition to its previous success in Paris and London, opening on Broadway this spring, it won The Tony, the Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle award for Outstanding New Play. “God of Carnage” is an outrageously funny and ferocious play that is destined to out-distance in popularity her previous award-winning play, “Art.”
Reza is particularly fortunate in having translator Christopher Hampton and director Matthew Warchus on her team. Her witty and brittle dialogue is not only splendidly delivered by the cast of four — Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden — but is also the beneficiary of Warchus’s staging that keeps the action, a source of constant behavioral surprises, bristling.
The play, which takes place in the living room of an upscale home (handsomely designed by Mark Thompson) in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, concerns a face-off of two sets of (very Americanized) parents, each committed to standing up in support of and in defense of their sons’ physical confrontation in a school yard. Alan (Daniels), a hot-shot lawyer and Annette (Hope Davis), his cool wife, are paying a presumably civilized call on Michael (James Gandolfini), a successful blue-collar entrepreneur, and his wife, Veronica (Harden), a collector/art maven. During the ensuing tete-a-tete, they each proceed to review the circumstances that led one boy to assault the other.
It doesn’t take long, however, for tempers to flair and for each of them to lose their composure amid an increasingly ugly battle of words, not all of which are hurled at their spouse. Most of all the tensions and accusations that are released are more often than not peeks into specific aspects of their marriages and at their own personal and often petty grievances with their mates.
Each member of the cast has been afforded a marvelous opportunity to make a case that either puts them more directly in harm’s way or reduces them to being less civilized than their original airs made them seem. Daniels is terrific as Alan, who attempts to stay in control of a business crisis on his cell phone while also addressing the legal angles of a potential lawsuit at hand.
Davis, who first appears as a fully composed executive type, loses it with hilarious results. In a distinct departure from his role in the TV series “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini is terrific and more than holds his own as the initially conciliatory Michael, who, when push comes to shove, delivers his own explosive rebuke to the situation. Perhaps Harden, as the indulged Veronica, has the most opportunities to fall apart and to instigate a full-out display of carnage, but before it is over, you can be sure that they all do their best to destroy any semblance of adult behavior. ***
“God of Carnage,” Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street. $66.50 to $121.50.
“God of Carnage” is only 90 minutes and the theater is small. You can purchase standing room for $26.50, available at the box office only on the day of the performance, and only when the performance is sold out (which is most performances).
For “Hair”: Standing room tickets for $25 each are available at the box office on the day of the performance and are only available if the performance is sold out. As for standing, you’ll be on your feet more than in your seat anyway. Here’s another option, the “Be-In Box” lottery: Two and a half hours prior to every performance, patrons are invited to enter a lottery for a limited number of $25 tickets. The seats will be in the “BE-IN” boxes. Limit one entry per person, and two tickets per entry. Names will be drawn at random two hours prior to curtain time. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets.