‘Hair’ Styles It On

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"Let the son shine, let the son shine in, the son shine in … ." No problem for Cherry Hill's David and Maxine Butler, whose son Ari is doing just that, shining in the musical "Hair," the Age of Aquarius musical for another age, on stage at the Prince Music Theater, where peace is not so much in its seventh house as it is on the main stage on Chestnut Street.

An old chestnut of a musical? Not for anyone who once went looking for Donna, that 16-year-old virgin … Woa! Flash forward, not back …

Okay, good morning Starshine. And good morning to you, says Ari, whose portrayal of Woof, the Three Dog Night of a sexually ambiguous hippie/anti-war rocker rocks the house every night, where younger audience members may think that the Age of Aquarius is some fish story best observed at the Camden Aquarium.


But for those who once took to the streets 40 years ago when an unpopular war tore at the nation's soul … Back to the future? Is "Hair" the millennium's Iraqi roll?

"It's a tragedy how accurate the comparison is," says the 26-year-old actor of a musical born of Vietnam, and revived and reverberating through Iraq.

"I'm the second oldest in the cast, and I look at all these reported deaths of people our age. About the only difference between then and now is that there's no draft now."

Draft Butler as a supporter for the show, although he was born years after it first wowed Broadway, and was the "be all" of "be in" musicals to be at on Broadway for those wanting to shed inhibitions, as the actors shed clothes nightly on stage.

Indeed, "Hair" today, gone tomorrow — so ephemeral is musical theater's influence that the peace symbols of another age aren't a piece of this contemporary time because of the influence of "Hair."

"Hair" as letdown?

"The musical didn't change the world. What it may have changed is musical theater."

They're all back there, up on stage, singing the songs sung some 40 years ago. Does the score sing to Butler's heart?

"It's rare to hear a song from 'Hair' today," he says.

But it was a popular, meaningful score in another oh, say fifth, dimension. "I saw a production of the show while I was a student at NYU," says Butler. "But it's not a time period that has key connections that I can relate to."

Maybe his relatives relate. His parents — David Butler for years was president of the Jewish Community Center of Southern New Jersey; his mother Maxine also has long been active in Jewish causes — never really talked that much about the '60s, he says.

But nobody in that family was ever going to pass the pipe. The young Butlers were raised to "just say no" to sex and drugs, attests Ari.

Bell bottoms bottomed out long ago as fashion icons, and Jew-fros are now frowned on.

And funny cigarettes? Funny, cigarettes — of any kind — now make people leery.

Of course, the actor has heard some talk: "People discussing the old days when they tried to levitate the Pentagon."

Such talk doesn't get a rise out of Ari: "I'd roll my eyes when I heard that."

Yet "Hair," which has an extension through June 24 at the Prince, does bring back the good old bad days in some ways. "Hair": Comb-over needed?

"The show doesn't need updating; you can see some of the topics are the same — concern for the environment, the educational system, the perception of beauty," rattles off Ari.

One man's weed is another's dandelion? Tie die to die for?

"I put on my costume," he says of what it means to become a living, breathing sideshow spectrum of colors every night.

Was he psyched by the psychedelic regalia? This piece won't guide the planets.

"I put it on and I think, 'You people wore this stuff for real?' "

Easy to be hard when you weren't there in the beginning, when someone talking about having sex and the city meant … sex and the whole city. But that was, like, before free love exacted its toll.

Does the era of "Make Love, Not War" make any sense to him?

"I grew up in a pretty straight-laced environment," says Ari.

Summer of Love
And while this production is pretty hip, don't expect a promotion promising the first 20 audience members named Mary Jane to be allowed in free. This isn't the Bong Show.

But the native of Cherry Hill, N.J., is a cheerleader for what's happening night after night at the Prince, where the main action of Central Park has been switched to a Rittenhouse Square setting.

Nothing square about that, says the actor hip to the action of the circle of life.

"I've always liked performances like 'Hair,' where the focus is on words, text, passion," says Ari.

Speaking of passion, 40 years after the Summer of Love first bloomed, does "Hair" history repeat itself? Is this the summer of love for Ari?

"No, for me, the summer of love will always be 2000," he attests.

Why? "Because that's when I met Sarah," he says sweetly of his fiance, whom he'll wed next spring in Hershey, Pa.

Flower child as perennial for a Hershey's kiss of candor?

"That will always be my summer of love." 

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