Steel Burkhardt and Paris Remillard, understudies and ensemble players in the Broadway edition, take over the lead roles of Berger and Claude. Though they strongly resemble their predecessors Will Swenson and Gavin Creel, both bring a strong new vibe all their own to their parts. Burkhardt endows the narcissistic Berger, leader of the tribe of flower children, with vulnerability, and he has a ball interacting with the audience. Remillard boldly delineates Claude's internal struggles among his disparate personalities—rebellious hippie, wannabe filmmaker, ersatz Englishman, and son of conservative parents from Flushing, Queens. His "Where Do I Go?" becomes a blazing search for identity. As Sheila, the political activist involved in a romantic triangle with both young men, Caren Lyn Tackett is passionate and powerful. She movingly delivers the ballad "Easy to Be Hard," making it both a cry for social justice and a personal plea for Berger's love.
There are two holdovers from the 2009 Broadway company in lead roles: Kacie Sheik as Jeanie, the pregnant girl with an unrequited crush on Claude, and Darius Nichols as Hud, the African-American provocateur who uses racist slurs as verbal hand grenades in the song "Colored Spade." Both have deepened their characterizations, adding shadings to the sketchy material provided in the loosey-goosey script by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
There are several standouts among the featured players as well. Phyre Hawkins' trumpet voice blasts out "Aquarius." Kaitlin Kiyan delivers the tender "Frank Mills" with a heartbreaking simplicity. As Claude's horrific parents, Josh Lamon and Allison Guinn are hilarious. Lamon also doubles as the inquiring tourist lady named for the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who wants to understand the weird sartorial and grooming habits of the hippies. He nearly steals the show with a wicked parody of middle-class propriety and a sly rendering of the character's comic manifesto "My Conviction."
With unpopular wars still raging and the forces of conformism still oppressing the free spirits in American society, "Hair" remains a vital expression of irrepressible youth and a joyous be-in for all ages.
Presented by the Public Theater, Nederlander Productions, Carl Moellenberg/Wenlarbar Productions, Rebecca Gold/Myla Lerner, Rick Costello, Joy Newman & David Schumeister, Paul G. Rice/Paul Bartz, Debbie Bisno, Christopher Hart Productions, John Pinckard, Terry Schnuck, and Joey Parnes, by special arrangement with Elizabeth Ireland McCann, at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., NYC. July 13–Sept. 10. Mon., Tue., and Thu., 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri., and Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m. (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250, or www.telecharge.com. Casting by Jordan Thaler and Heidi Griffiths.