The rock musical Hair first debuted off-Broadway in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York The musical, written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, was an experimental, original production about the lives of young teenagers in the Sixities. The musical explored free love, sexuality, racism, homosexuality, drug use, protest against the United States involvement in the War in Vietnam, the Age of Aquarius and the themes of loneliness and isolation. The writers got the idea for Hair from a painting by James Dine entitled Hair that showed a comb and a strand of hair. The songs that originated from that idea are about letting your hair grow long, wild and free with lyrics like My hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah, I adore it, Here, Baby, There, Mama, everywhere, Daddy, Daddy, Hair, Hair, Hair, Hair! Keep on growin’, Keep it flowin’ my Hair! The music was loud, joyous, soulful, angry and celebratory, capturing the spirit of the New Generation of Baby Boomers who were rebelling against their parent’s generation of values that stood for right-wing conservatism.
The musical Hair debuted on Broadway in April 1968. It had undergone a transformation with new staging and 12 new songs added. Hair was unusual in it’s staging in that it had the performers running into the audience, handing out flowers, and inviting them to participate at the end of the performance in a big be-in on stage. It was also unique in that much of the cast, dressed as Hippies, was scantily dressed or even appeared nude. They even had some staging where performers swung from ropes over the audience and the stage, while singing. In The New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote an enthusiastic review, praising the original production:
Mr. O’Horgan has worked wonders. He makes the show vibrate from the first slow-burn opening – with half-naked hippies statuesquely slow-parading down the center aisle – to the all-hands-together, anti-patriotic finale. 1
The unique staging called for the use of a different audio system so that the performers could be heard from wherever they were in the theater. The cast members required audio microphones attached to them individually, as well as the stage, and then the audio was run through a main sound board and mixed, much like was done at rock group performances in the Sixties. The result was one that gave the performers and the group a sound that was ahead of it’s time. This audio technique was the precursor to what is now standard to many large, ensemble productions on Broadway today.
The musical produced a number of top 40 hits, a movie adaptation and many long national, regional and international runs. The show is known for it’s innovation in audio staging and production. Hair has just opened again on Broadway in April of 2009. Although it is a whole new generation of performers, the musical is as vibrant as ever, spreading the message of self-expression, freedom and universal love.
1) Barnes, Clive. Likable Rock Musical Moves to Broadway, The New York Times, April 30, 1968.