Hair and Now

As he watched footage of protesters rallying in New York City on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Phil McKinley felt a sense of déjà vu. "I thought I was looking at footage from the '60s," he says.

The moon must be in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligned with Mars, because it's 1968 again, man. Let's see: That year the United States was waging a highly controversial war abroad, and global tension and unrest provided the backdrop for a closely contested presidential race. Sound familiar?

It was also the year Hair, about a day in the life of a "tribe" of hippies in New York City, opened on Broadway. Starting this weekend, director McKinley and Theatre Under the Stars are bringing the famous show, whose hits include "The Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In," to Houston.

Despite the obvious parallels with the present day, McKinley (who recently directed the Broadway hit The Boy from Oz with Hugh Jackman) chose to keep this production of Hair in its own decade. Instead of its timeliness, he hopes to emphasize the show's timelessness. "Although the show that [Gerome] Ragni, [Galt] MacDermot and [James] Rado wrote had an antiwar theme, it also had a pro theme for a new way of life," he says. "It was not just against, it was for something."

Sure, the questions Hair asks about tolerance, sexual freedom, individualism, drug use and war are still pertinent, but back then they were new. Nowadays, they seem a tad hippie-ish. But Hair's central message, as McKinley puts it, is that counterculture life, as portrayed in the musical, can be "a joyous celebration." Too bad modern-day protesters aren't getting that vibe. "Today, it's mixed in with a good deal of hostility," he says. Where's the harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust? Perhaps a little flower power is just what this generation of protesters needs.

Or maybe just some better music.

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Julia Ramey