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By Phil Hall | February 14, 2009

Pola Rapaport’s mild documentary “Hair: Let the Sun Shine In” has the best of intentions – tracing the importance of the 1968 Broadway musical “Hair” in relation to commercial theater and popular culture.

To its credit, the film (which was originally produced for French TV) offers a mix of very rare footage from four decades ago, including a “Tonight Show” interview by Johnny Carson with the show’s authors, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, as well a French-language television interview with Tim Curry from the original London cast. Rado and composer Galt MacDermot are interviewed, along with the original stage director Tom O’Horgan, the film version’s director Milos Forman, and several performers who appeared in the show, including Ben Vereen, Melba Moore and Keith Carradine. (Ragni died in 1991.)

But to its disadvantage, the film provides a spotty history of the show’s checkered existence. Missing from the film are the controversies regarding its disqualification from the 1968 Tony Awards (it wound up being nominated in the 1969 awards, losing to “1776″), the show’s tumultuous international productions (the Mexican government shut it down after a single performance in Mexico City, but Yugoslavia’s Communist dictator Tito attended the opening in Belgrade), and the problems in bringing the show to the screen (no clips from the 1979 film version are included). Also absent is any mention of the many popular recordings of the show’s celebrated songs, the disastrous 1977 Broadway revival that closed after 43 dismal performances, or an explanation of why Rado, Ragni and MacDermot were never able to duplicate the show’s success (the three men are still only recalled for the show).

Despite the insistence by all present on screen that “Hair” is relevant today, the show nonetheless feels like a vintage piece from a distant past. When a group of young actors tramp around New York’s Washington Square Park in a quasi-music video version of “The Flesh Failure/Let the Sunshine In,” it is difficult not to rue that today’s generation has no theatrical musical work that defines the current mood in the way that “Hair” defined the late 1960s. If this film has a message, it would be that we can let the sunshine in, but we cannot expect warmth or illumination, only groovy nostalgia.

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