The Age of Aquarius returns -- for one night only -- when The Actors' Fund of America lets down its Hair for its annual benefit concert on September 20 at the New Amsterdam Theater. The famed 1967 Galt McDermot-Gerome Ragni-James Rado musical has fascinated the benefit's creator and musical director, Seth Rudetsky, since he saw the original Broadway production when he was just four years old. (No kidding!)
Raúl Esparza, who led the cast in a bang-up version of the title song at a press presentation on Monday, came to Hair a little later in life. "I was about 11 and I remember finding this Technicolor, psychedelic album cover in our rec room among my mother's music collection from the 1960s," he tells me. "It was unusual, because most of what we had was Cuban music from the 1940s and 1950s. My parents didn't participate in the 1960s counterculture at all; I think they had had enough with the Cuban revolution. I played the album, and when I heard songs like 'Hashish' and 'Sodomy,' I thought, 'What is this?!'"
Annie Golden did a great version of the plaintive "Frank Mills" on Monday, and she didn't need to learn the tune from a recording: She starred in both the show's 1977 Broadway revival and Milos Forman's1979 movie version. "But I never got to sing that song in the show, so I sing it in my cabaret act," she says. Golden hopes to present the act in New York after finishing up her run in People Be Heard, now at Playwrights Horizons. ("It's an unusual piece about the American way of life," Golden tells me. "It's edgy, contemporary, and profoundly honorable, although it may offend people who don't get it.") Another member of the Hair cast, RuPaul, still treasures the eight-track tape version of the show's cast album that he got as a teenager. "I am so happy that I'm getting to sing 'My Conviction,'" he says, "because I love the words of that song: 'Be whoever you want to be, as long you don't hurt somebody.' This show really embodies the human spirit -- and I love that it does it with a sense of humor. These days, it's too easy to take everything too seriously."
REAL LIVE GIRLS (AND BOYS)
Also set to appear in the Hair concert is the fabulously funny Ana Gasteyer -- and it turns out that she's not the only former Saturday Night Live star who are strutting her stuff on stage this season. The hilarious Julia Sweeney has just begun a two-month run of her new solo show Letting Go of God at Los Angeles' Hudson Backstage Theater. Here in New York, Christine Ebersole will be part of the Talking Heads reunion in the National Arts Club's Food for Thought series on October 7. On the male side of the SNL equation, Michael McKean finishes his run as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray on October 3 and then heads straight into rehearsals for Woody Allen's A Second Hand Memory, which begins previews at the Atlantic Theater on November 3. And the maaahvelous Billy Crystal debuts his new solo show 700 Sundays at the Broadhurst on November 12. But here's some news: Nora Dunn, who was to have co-starred in White Chocolate at the Century Center beginning on September 21, has been replaced by Julie Halston.
Dixie Carter opens the 50th season of the Café Carlyle on Friday, September 17 and it's an understatement to say that she's honored to be in that position. "I wanted to be a singer ever since I could walk," says Carter, "and this room has been the apple of my eye ever since I first arrived in New York. So to play here again, and on this occasion, is the highest piece of fruit on my tree." Carter will be performing with her longtime pal and music director John Wallowitch, and her songlist will run the gamut from Frank Loesser to Bob Dylan, along with a trio of Wallowitch originals. "Even though I've only done five of the songs before, the arc of my show remains essentially the same," says Carter "It's about innocence, the loss of innocence and the return to innocence. I always stress the importance of romance and tenderness, and how important it is not to let that be bludgeoned in our culture."
Speaking of romance, Carter and her husband Hal Holbrook celebrated their 20th anniversary this year. But the pair, who co-starred on TV's Designing Women, had to spend the special day apart. Holbrook was on the road performing Mark Twain Tonight, the solo show he's been doing for more than 50 years, and Carter was here in Thoroughly Modern Millie, an experience she adored. Carter is hoping for more togetherness with Holbrook this year; in fact, the pair will be doing a reading of a new play at Houston's Alley Theater later this fall -- "and who knows what will happen," she says. "But I do know this: If we ever go on tour, I am in charge of the hotel reservations. We will be staying where there's a big swimming pool for Hal to do his workouts and 24-hour room service for me!"
AMERICA THE DUTIFUL
The talk onstage at the Broadway for a New America benefit at Avalon on Monday night was about getting rid of George Bush -- and it was eloquently spoken by such award-winning actors as Tovah Feldshuh (in her Golda Meir drag), Kathleen Chalfant and Randy Graff. Offstage, however, the chat turned to projects past, present and future. Host Robert Klein promised a lot of merriment and music, including something called "The Colonoscopy Song," for his upcoming two-week gig at Feinstein's at the Regency (click here for info). Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris raved about the crowds at Ravinia, where he recently starred with Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone in Sunday in the Park With George. And director Jamie McGonnigal plugged his upcoming benefit Pippin concert on November 29, which we hear may feature a former American Idol star in the lead role.
TWO OFF THE AISLE
Husband and wife Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick have become fixtures at Broadway opening nights; but I suspect that the talented twosome will be cutting back on their theatergoing this fall, since they're both going to be onstage. Jennings, who was sensational in MTC's Sight Unseen, co-stars with Matthew Broderick and Frances Sternhagen in the Roundabout's production of The Foreigner, set to open on November 7. As for McCormick, she'll team with former Cosby kid Sabrina Le Beauf for Eve-olution, which begins previews at the Cherry Lane on October 5.
LOG ON TO CAROL!
What becomes a legend most? If it's Carol Channing, then it's her own website. The forever young-at-heart star has just launched www.carolchanning.net. By the way, a taste of Channing's legendary performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi will be featured as part of the upcoming, six-hour PBS series Broadway: The American Musical and the companion five-CD set, which is due out on October 12.