The Age Of Aquarius...

They say that insanity is repeating the same actions again and again and expecting a different outcome. While there is some wisdom in advising people against banging their head against the wall fruitlessly, there is also something to be said about giving second chances and hoping things will work out. I am often guilty of the latter, as it seems to be in my nature to be convinced that I can make myself like something if I only give it enough opportunities to impress me. Sometimes, this approach pays off -- I finally taught myself to like cottage cheese a few years ago after a lifetime of abhorring it -- but most of the time it leads me to wonder why I keep subjecting myself to things I don't like. Sometimes I'm just too stubborn to admit defeat.

Today, I threw myself into another such encounter, when I convinced my mother to take me to see the production of Hair that's been playing in Chicago this month. A musical about the drug-addled hippie culture of the 1960s featuring full-frontal nudity might not seem like a natural fit for a mother-daughter outing, but I grew up hearing Mom's story about how her own mother forbade her to see Hair when she was in college as an illustration of how she was a much more liberal parent than her own. It seemed to me that it was time to correct her original deprivation, even if it's now almost forty years later.

My own history with Hair is just as tortured. Given my love of musicals, I'd watched the movie ages ago and had been thoroughly unimpressed (and largely confused by the incoherent plot) though I liked some of the music. When I was in college myself, the Washington University theater department put on a production that I went to see, and it was similarly awful. I was made uneasy by the hippies roaming the theater and getting touchy-feely with the audience while "smoking" oregano joints that made the room smell terrible. However, I found myself even more taken with the music featured in Hair, even if I couldn't really understand what it was supposed to be about, or what was supposed to be happening on stage.

Hence, when I saw that the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Hair was coming to Chicago on tour, I decided to give the show one last chance. If a version with high production values couldn't win me over, then it was truly a lost cause and I should resign myself to enjoying its songs on my iPod.

After seeing today's show, I think I'm still ambivalent about Hair. All of the singers were talented and carried their roles well, the exposition of the plot was the most intelligible I've seen to date, and the production did spread a sense of joy throughout that was quite pleasant. However, the costumes seemed to be rather inaccurate and lacking (most of the clothing seemed to have been culled from the boho-chic closets of the ensemble and 2011 thrift stores, not the 1960s) and I was mostly glad that Berger, one of the male leads, put a pair of jeans over his very tiny loin cloth after the first musical number. We might live in liberated times, but I was in no way prepared to be exposed to that much pasty man-thigh for an entire show. Also, although the progression of the story was more clear than ever, I wasn't sure it was entirely compelling. Frankly, I think it might be more relatable if it were viewed in a similar state of intoxication as portrayed in the show itself. The songs might still hold up after 40 years, but the psychedelic tribal love entanglements do not.

I think I'm ready to give up on live productions of Hair now. I enjoyed today's show, but not enough to roll the dice again in the future. The next time I'm keen to "let the sunshine in," I'll do it over a pair of earbuds.

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