Being recently called to enroll in the US Army, a soon-to-be soldier is on his way to induction in 1970's New York. First he meets a group of care-free hippies who try to persuade him to relax, and that he's making the wrong decision with the help of some catchy songs.
Milos Forman had seen the first off-Broadway preview of Hair while visiting the United States in 1967. Suitably impressed by its countercultural values and catchy pop tunes, he had hoped to stage a production in Prague, but soon found himself in exile following the Soviet crackdown.
By the time Forman arrived in Hollywood, the Great White Way's first amplified show, subtitled `An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical', had run 1,742 performances. But his attempts to secure the rights were thwarted by a tarot reader, who advised co-writers Gerome Ragni and James Redo against the deal. However, the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) gave Forman the clout to greenlight a project that chimed in exactly with his US debut, Taking Off (1971), and the iconoclastic comedies he had made in Czechoslavakia.
Unfortunately, America and its music scene had moved on in the 12 years it took for Forman to mount his production. Consequently, Galt MacDermot songs like `Aquarius' and `Good Morning Starshine' sounded impossibly twee in a post-punk world. Yet, despite a mixed critical response, the film found an audience with a younger generation that was no better disposed towards Uncle Sam than the Summer of Love's hippies. But, Forman failed to persuade those who had smoked dope, burned their draft cards and indulged in free love to tune in, turn on and drop out all over again rather than assume their place as the Establishment-in-waiting.
Forman and screenwriter Michael Weller brought a sense of coherence to the original freewheeling structure and Twyla Tharp's choreography imparted an infectious dynamism. But, the profanity, nudity and disregard for the fourth wall that had made the stage show such a sensation were lost in the translation. Moreover, neither John Savage nor Treat Williams gave particularly empathetic performances and, consequently, the denunciation of authority and the celebration of drugs, environmentalism, racial tolerance and individual freedom seemed self-consciously liberal and theatrical.
Although it's not dated as well as many other musicals, sadly this has more to do with the film instead of it's style. Proving successful on Broadway doesn't always mean success on screen, Hair is a case in point. With songs that aren't that memorable and a weak plot that wants to be more relevant, Hair leaves you feeling disappointed.
Reviewed by David Parkinson