When I was 5 years old my Uncle Ted, my father’s bachelor brother, took me to see my first Broadway musical – THE MUSIC MAN with Robert Preston. It was a Saturday matinee and we sat in the first row of the Mezzanine. From age 5 through my college years Ted continued to take me to just about every Broadway musical that was “age appropriate” – with few exceptions always a Saturday matinee sitting in the center of the first row Mezzanine (at the revival of A FUNNY THING that starred Phil Silvers we sat next to the star’s sister).
When I was 8 years old my father took me to my first football game – a Rutgers college game I believe. By then I had already seen MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (with Andy Griffith), WILDCAT (with Lucille Ball), FLOWER DRUM SONG, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and others. I was totally bored at the football game. Where is the music? Where is the dancing? To this day I have always been glad that my uncle got to me first.
Unfortunately, because of the brief full frontal nudity that closed the first Act (and still does in the current revival), HAIR was not considered “age appropriate” for a 16 year old – so I did not see the original Broadway production (although we did see several of the forgettable rip-offs that followed during the late 60s and early 70s, including DUDE from HAIR creators Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot). I did, however, play my uncle’s Original Broad Cast Album of HAIR constantly during my high school years – so much that I almost wore down the grooves in the record. I finally did get to see a production of HAIR, complete with Act-closing nudity, at Convention Hall in Asbury Park in the early 1970s.
Other than the Asbury Park production I had never seen or heard of HAIR being revived or done by a regional professional or amateur theatre (although there was apparently a 1977 Broadway revival at the Biltmore that ran from August 3rd to November 6th and more recently a special one-night benefit, concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre on September 20, 2004). So I was “pleased as punch” when I heard that the Public Theatre’s Theatre-in-the-Park production would be coming to Broadway.
HAIR, The American Tribal Love Rock Musical, was originally conceived by actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni. They got the idea for the title of the show from a painting of a comb and a few strands of hair on a blank canvas by Jim Dine titled "Hair" in a Whitney Museum exhibition. Rado and Ragni were hooked up with Canadian composer Galt MacDermot when they brought their drafts of the show to producer Eric Blau.
Joe Papp of the New York Shakespeare Festival chose HAIR to open the Festival’s new Public Theater in New York City's Greenwich Village. The musical was the Festival’s first non-Shakespeare offering. HAIR next had a brief run at “The Cheetah”, a discothèque at 53rd Street and Broadway, before being totally overhauled for its move to Broadway. FYI, There was no nudity in either the Public Theater or Cheetah production.
HAIR was a reflection of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, As described in Wikopedia, it “tells the story of the ‘tribe’, a group of politically active, long-haired ‘Hippies of the Age of Aquarius’ fighting against conscription to the Vietnam War and living a bohemian life together in New York City. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and all their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their pacifist rebellion against the war and the conservative impulses of their parents and society. Ultimately Claude must decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends have done.”
The main characters of Claude and Berger were autobiographical, Rado's Claude being the pensive romantic and Ragni's Berger the extrovert, and R + R played these roles in the original Broadway production. Also appearing in HAIR during its original Broadway run were Melba Moore, Ronnie Dyson, Diane Keaton, Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine, Barry McGuire, Ted Lange (the Love Boat bartender), Meat Loaf, and Heather MacRae.
The original Broadway production ran for 1750 performances at the Biltmore Theatre, from April 29, 1968 through July 1, 1972. It was nominated for TONYs for Best Musical and Best Director (Tom O’Horgan – who went on to direct LENNY and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR), as was the revival, but lost out to 1776 in both categories.
There was a film version of HAIR in 1979 directed by Milos Forman and starring John Savage, Treat Williams, and Beverly D'Angelo. Rado and Ragni were quite upset by the film and never approved of it.
In 1990 Ragni, Rado, and MacDermot, with Steve Margoshes, collaborated on an environmental musical called SUN, also known as YMCA, which I saw as part of a series of staged readings of new works at the New Amsterdam Theatre (before it was refurbished). It never got to Broadway. Ragni died of cancer in 1991 before he and Rado could begin work on their planned musical sequel to HAIR.
Saturday’s performance did not disappoint. It was indeed a wild production, with the cast running up and down the aisles and truly interacting “in your face” with the audience, much like the cats of CATS. It was one occasion when I was glad my seat was mid-row on the side instead of on the aisle! The energy that I expect was present during the original 1968 production was certainly onstage Saturday night.
The tribe, led by the excellent Berger and Claude, were great, giving voice to the sentiments of the youth of the late 60’s on war, drugs, sex, pollution, etc. A black member of the “tribe” described the war as “the white man sending the black man to fight the yellow man to defend a land stolen from the red man”.
All the songs I revered as a teenager were there – “Hair”, “Aquarius”, “Let The Sun Shine In”, “Good Morning Starshine”, “Easy To Be Hard”, and “Where Do I Go”, as well as lesser known favorites “Sodomy”, “Colored Spade”, “Initials” (“LBJ took the IRT Down to 4th Street USA. When he got there what did he see? The youth of America on LSD!”), “Black Boys” and “White Boys”.
After the curtain calls the audience flooded the stage to join the cast in a rousing chorus of “Let the Sunshine In”. One sight that would have not been present at the original production – young audience members onstage taking pictures of those who remained in the audience with their cell phones.
Go see HAIR at the Al Hirschfield Theatre on 45th Street. Whether you are a child of the 60s or a member of the current generation you will enjoy it.
FYI, in my early years of Broadway theatre-going with my uncle a ticket for front row Mezzanine was $12.50. My Orchestra ticket for Saturday’s, after the various service fees were added, was $130.00!
This coming Saturday afternoon I am returning to NYC, as part of my "lusty month of ME", to see the comedy DON’T LEAVE IT ALL TO YOUR CHILDREN!, and next Monday night to Town Hall for a revue of the BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1970 – both tickets purchased through TDF.