Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and music by Galt McDermott. It tells the story of a group of young hippies who protest against the Vietnam War, draft and racism in the United States during the 1960s. The musical’s score attempts to recreate the sounds of rock music from that period.
The musical’s hair style, used to represent the characters’ long hair, was inspired by the Native American headdress. The use of nudity, sex and profanity in the musical was considered controversial at the time. The show’s original Broadway production opened on April 29, 1968, and ran for 1,750 performances. It has since been revived on Broadway three times, in 1979, 2009 and most recently in 2019. Early regional productions and international productions have also been staged.
2. History of the Musical
The musical’s conception is credited to James Rado, who was looking for a way to express his feelings about the Vietnam War and the counterculture movement of the 1960s. He began writing the musical with fellow actor Gerome Ragni in 1966. They wrote many songs for the musical before Galt McDermott was brought on as composer. The three collaborators attended an anti-war rally in Central Park where they were inspired by the energy and spirit of the protesters. They decided to set their musical in Greenwich Village, which was at the heart of the counterculture movement.
The title of the musical comes from a line in one of Rado’s songs, “Aquarius”, which is also the name of one of the main characters in the show. The character is based on real life astrologer Lynda Hardin, who was a friend of Rado’s.
2. 2 Early Productions
The first production of Hair was staged off-Broadway at Joe Papp’s Public Theater in October 1967. The production was directed by Tom O’Horgan and choreographed by Julie Arenal. It starred Ragni as Claude, Rado as Berger and Sheila MacRae as Sheila Franklin. MacRae left the cast after six weeks and was replaced by Lynn Kellogg.
The Off-Broadway production closed in January 1968 after 156 performances but reopened later that month at another Off-Broadway venue, Biltmore Theater. It ran for an additional 13 performances before moving to Broadway.
2. 3 The West End
The musical opened in London’s West End at Shaftesbury Theatre on September 27, 1968, where it ran for 1,997 performances. It was directed by Robert Kalfin with choreography by Patricia Birch. Sharon Gless made her professional debut in this production as Sheila Franklin. The production caused some controversy due to its nude scene and swear words, which led to it being banned from several venues before finally finding a home at Shaftesbury Theatre. Despite this controversy, Hair was a commercial success in London, becoming one of the longest running musicals of its time
2. 4 International Productions
The musical has been produced in many countries around the world. International productions began in 1969 with a production in Munich, Germany. This was followed by productions in Australia, Japan, France, Sweden, Italy, Brazil and many other countries. In 1971, a production opened in South Africa which was the first professional production of an English-language musical in that country. The show continued to be popular in the 1980s and 1990s with revivals in London, New York and Australia.
Hair is often seen as a symbol of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. The characters in the musical are all part of the hippie subculture and they espouse many of the values associated with that movement including peace, love, freedom, sexual liberation and environmentalism. The musical’s message of anti-war and anti-racism was considered controversial at the time but it resonated with many young people who were opposed to the Vietnam War and the Draft.
3. 2 Sexuality
Sexual liberation is another theme explored in Hair. The characters are open about their sexuality and there are several nude scenes in the musical. This was considered controversial at the time but it mirrored the attitudes of many young people who were exploring their sexuality during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
3. 3 Religion
The character of Berger is based on real life astrologer Lynda Hardin, who was a friend of Rado’s. The character is used to explore the theme of astrology and its role in the counterculture movement. Many young people were interested in alternative religions and beliefs during the 1960s and Hair reflects this trend.
3. 4 Astrology
Astrology is another theme explored in Hair. The character of Berger is based on real life astrologer Lynda Hardin, who was a friend of Rado’s. The character is used to explore the theme of astrology and its role in the counterculture movement. Many young people were interested in alternative religions and beliefs during the 1960s and Hair reflects this trend.
3. 5 Literary and Symbolic Themes
Hair is full of literary and symbolic references. The characters often quote from famous poets such as Dylan Thomas and e e cummings. There are also references to classical works such as William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. These references help to add depth and meaning to the show beyond its surface story about hippies protesting against the Vietnam War.
Hair is a musical that has remained popular for over 50 years. It was ahead of its time in many ways, exploring themes of counterculture, sexuality, religion and astrology that were considered controversial at the time. The musical has been revived on Broadway three times and continues to be produced internationally. Its message of peace and love is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.