Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shakespeare in the Park with Hair

Shakespeare in the Park's Hair isn't Shakespeare, but it is very good theater. The production takes the patchwork sprawl of the iconic '60s musical and transforms it into a magical, moving experience using the well-channeled energy of its talented ensemble.

I'd seen the Spring 2001 Encores! revival and the movie version (substantially rewritten by Michael Weller), but this ediiton (reworked by original co-writer James Rado) seemed almost completely new and fresh, a quilt of skits, parodies, and avant-garde theatrics tied together by threads of plot and character development. Here and there I would have liked the stage action to have given more context to the songs—the action that triggers "Easy to Be Hard" didn't seem sad enough to warrant the song's somberness (see movie counter-example here) and "Good Morning Starshine" might have been sung too much to the audience and not enough to the Tribe, with the lyrics possibly coming across as too nonsensical (see Idina Menzel/Encores! counter-example here). But the pieces still came together very well, the climactic "Let the Sun Shine In" a powerful "broken-hearted plea" (as artistic director Oskar Eustis put it in the program notes) made all the more touching by an awareness of how rarely it has been taken to heart over the past thirty—no, forty—years. And Andrew Kober did good work in the Margaret Mead sequence.

Hair's run, originally scheduled to end in August, has been lengthened to September 14 thanks to another "Hair extension." I would be surprised if the show didn't make it to Broadway, but of course this is an opportunity to see it free in Central Park—at a price. For most people, it takes time and effort to get the tickets. And there can be emotional costs as well. Oh yes, it's true.

So here are tips on getting tickets on weekdays (especially good weather Tuesdays through Thursdays). Keep in mind that, as the run continues, the recommended times will probably tend to be earlier and earlier.
  • You can join a "virtual line" for one or two tickets per person every performance day until the 1:00pm cut-off time—don't count on getting those tickets, though.
  • Currently the best time to get in the morning line for one or two tickets per person seems to be before 8:00am; the earlier you get there, the better off you will be. The ticket distribution takes places around 1:00pm.
  • The current best time to get in the standby line for one ticket per person is before 4:00pm—there is no cutting in this line, so if you show up after your partner(s), the best thing to do is suck it up immediately and go to wherever the back of the line happens to be. (If you wait and then someone narcs on you, then you'll probably end up much farther back in the line.) Don't expect to get a standby ticket until the last minute, so bring your own victuals or be ready to get some from a vendor or the concessions stand or get something delivered from a nearby deli. (Security mentions one deli in particular.)
  • You can probably expect some passersby to offer a spare ticket, or you might be able to get the consent to replace someone who leaves the line (after that person gives up on the line, accepts a giveaway ticket, or moves back in the line to be with a latecomer) on a one-for-one basis, but don't count on either contingency actually occurring!
  • I have to say that the pain involved in getting tickets for these free events is a major downside for me. Last night, for instance, I ended up being a very conflicted "hall monitor" on the standby line. Out of the people immediately in front of me, one woman was joined by another woman, and then (if memory serves) a guy was joined by about five family members. That's when I piped up, said I hated being a hardass, and went over the no-cutting, one person/one ticket rule. The guy very nicely explained that he'd be moving with his family to the back of the line anyway, but the two women stuck together...and then the woman in front of me said that someone would be joining her.

    Much closer to curtain time—at a point when Security people had finally started showing up and explaining the policy to everyone on the line—I reluctantly confronted the two women again, and they eventually wound up going away, blaming me for ruining peoples' evenings. By this time, the woman's companion had finally arrived and cut in front of the mass of people who had arrived before him, including the family that had moved back. He too was furious at me—but it turned out that he was able to qualify for a one-for-one place exchange with one of the women who went away. (I immediately realized that the women who left might have been able to take advantage of the one-for-one exchange because of the guy who had moved back to be with his family, but by then they were long gone.) I did get support from some people around me, but it was still upsetting to play the role of The Man (especially for Hair!) and be the target of so much anger from people. And it turned out that it was all in vain anyway, because the cut-off point for the tickets was just in front of all of us. So ultimately none of us were close enough to the front of the line to get a ticket. I did get in, though, because a friend who'd arrived earlier but had already seen the show decided to give me his ticket. So I guess I'm not totally unlikeable. (Thanks, Steve!)

    Anyway, I wish the line systems at Shakespeare in the Park and the Met could be improved to avoid that kind of conflict and pain. It just sucks to leave the people in line to play such a big role in enforcing the strict rules. There's got to be a better way. Handing out place tickets in the order of arrival might be the best strategy.



    David Marc Fischer said...

    Hey there! If you've tried to get Hair tickets, feel free to share the wisdom of your experience here, so that others might use it. Thanks!

    myra said...

    You can also donate $160 to the Public Theater and receive a complimentary ticket in return, you will likely be seated in one of the front sections.

    On rainy days, you can try the regular line right around distribution time, or the cancellation line, there will be less demand and more no-shows.

    Sometimes you can get someone to lineup for you! I waited in line starting around 7am during previews and got 8th row tickets. My group waited in line together and ended up having an extra ticket that I ended up giving to the cancellation line. You can give me your phone/email if you want a chance at these kind of last-minute tickets in the future.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    I'm told that someone who joined the standby line last night (Sunday, September 7) at 6 pm wound up with a great seat.

    And the Clintons were there, too! A cast member had a bit of fun with that.

    Still, the logic of "the earlier, the better" should prevail.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Big shocker: Hair should arrive on Broadway in 2009.

    Myra said...

    So now you can pay for Best Revival HAIR on Broadway, instead of seeing it under the stars for free.