(born Oct. 7, 1934, Newark, N.J., U.S.) U.S. playwright, poet, and activist. After graduating from Howard University and serving in the U.S. Air Force, he joined the Beat movement and in 1961 published his first major poetry collection. His play Dutchman (1964), produced off-Broadway, explored the suppressed hostility of U.S. blacks toward the dominant white culture. After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Baraka became involved in black nationalism and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem. In 1974 he adopted a Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He was appointed Poet Laureate of New Jersey in 2002.
Learn more about Baraka, (Imamu) Amiri with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. A product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti–Vietnam War peace movement. The musical's profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of the "rock musical", utilizing a racially-integrated cast and inviting the audience onstage for a "Be-in" finale.
Hair 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. They 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. Claude, one of the leaders of the tribe, must decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends have done.
After an off-Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater and another run in a midtown discothèque space, the show opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances, followed by a successful London production, which ran for 1,997 performances. Numerous productions have been staged around the world since then, and numerous recordings of the musical have been released. Several of the songs from its score became Top 40 hits, and a successful movie adaptation was released in 1979.
In the Los Angeles Times, Rado described the inspiration for Hair as "a combination of some characters we met in the streets, people we knew and our own imaginations. We knew this group of kids in the East Village who were dropping out and dodging the draft, and there were also lots of articles in the press about how kids were being kicked out of school for growing their hair long, and we incorporated that in the show too." Rado recalled, "There was so much excitement in the streets and the parks and the hippie areas, and we thought if we could transmit this excitement to the stage it would be wonderful.... We hung out with them and went to their Be-Ins [and] let our hair grow." Many cast members (Shelley Plimpton in particular) were recruited right off the street.
Rado and Ragni came from different artistic backgrounds. In college, Rado wrote musical revues and aspired to be a Broadway composer in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition. He went on to study acting with Lee Strasberg. Ragni, on the other hand, was an active member of The Open Theater group in New York City, one of several groups, mostly Off-off Broadway, that were developing experimental theatre techniques. Ragni would later interest Rado in the modern theatre styles and methods being developed at The Open Theater. In 1966, while the two were developing Hair, Ragni performed in The Open Theater's production of Megan Terry's play, Viet Rock, a story about young men being deployed to the Vietnam War. In addition to the war theme, Viet Rock employed the same improvisational and workshop exercises being used in the experimental theatre scene and later used in the development of Hair.
Rado and Ragni brought their ideas for the show to producer Eric Blau who, through common friend Nat Shapiro, connected the two with Canadian composer Galt MacDermot. MacDermot had won a Grammy Award in 1961 for his composition "African Waltz" (recorded by Cannonball Adderley). "We work independently," explained MacDermot regarding the creative process. "I prefer it that way. They hand me the material. I set it to music. MacDermot wrote the first score in three weeks, starting with the songs "I Got Life", "Ain't Got No", "Where Do I Go" and the title song. He first wrote "Aquarius" as an unconventional art piece, but later went back and changed it to an uplifting anthem. MacDermot's lifestyle was in marked contrast to his co-creators: "I had short hair, a wife, and, at that point, four children, and I lived on Staten Island."
Chicago businessman Michael Butler was planning a run for the U.S. Senate on an anti-war platform. After seeing an ad for Hair in the New York Times that led him to believe the show was about Native Americans, he watched the Public's production several times and decided to purchase the rights and move it to Broadway. Papp and Butler then moved the show to The Cheetah, an old discotheque at 53rd Street and Broadway. It ran there for 45 performances. There was no nudity in either the Public Theater or Cheetah production.
Hair underwent a massive overhaul between its closing at the Cheetah in January 1968 and its Broadway opening three months later. The Off-Broadway book, already light on plot, was loosened even further, and were added. One song in particular, "Let the Sun Shine In", was added to the Broadway show so the ending would be more uplifting. In rehearsals, O'Horgan used techniques passed down by Viola Spolin and Paul Sills of improvisational "games" and role playing theories that encouraged freedom and spontaneity. Many of these improvizations were incorporated into the Broadway script.
Papp declined to pursue a Broadway production, and so Butler produced the show himself. For a time it seemed that Butler would be unable to secure a Broadway theater, as the Shuberts, Nederlanders and other theater owners deemed the material too controversial. However, he pulled some political strings through family connections, and convinced theater owner David Cogan to make the Biltmore Theater available.
The original New York "tribe" (i.e., cast) included authors Rado and Ragni, who played the lead roles of Claude and Berger, respectively, and Lynn Kellogg as Sheila, Lamont Washington as Hud, Sally Eaton as Jeanie, Shelley Plimpton as Crissy, Melba Moore as Dionne, Steve Curry as Woof, Ronnie Dyson (who sang "Aquarius"), Paul Jabara and Diane Keaton (who would later play Sheila). Among the performers who appeared in Hair during its original Broadway run were Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine, Barry McGuire, Ted Lange, Kenny Seymour (of Little Anthony and The Imperials), Joe Butler (of the Lovin' Spoonful), Peppy Castro (of the Blues Magoos), Robin McNamara, Heather MacRae (daughter of Gordon MacRae), Eddie Rambeau and Kim Milford.
Early on the Hair team became embroiled in a lawsuit with the organizers of the Tony Awards. After assuring producer Michael Butler that commencing previews by April 3 was sufficient to warrant consideration by the New York Theatre League for the 1968 Tonys, the League later ruled Hair ineligible, moving the cutoff date to March 19. The producers brought suit but were unable to force the League to reconsider. At the 1969 Tonys, Hair was nominated for Best Musical and Best Director but lost out to 1776 in both categories. The production closed after a four year run of 1,750 performances, on July 1, 1972.
There were soon nine simultaneous productions in U.S. cities, followed by national tours. Among the performers in these were Joe Mantegna and André DeShields (Chicago), David Lasley, David Patrick Kelly and Shaun Murphy (Detroit), Arnold McCuller (tour), and Philip Michael Thomas (San Francisco).
The same creative team from Broadway lent their efforts to Hair in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, as the Broadway staging served as a rough template for these and other early regional productions. One notable addition to the team in Los Angeles was Tom Smothers who served as co-producer. Regional casts were mostly made up of local actors, with the exception of some Broadway cast members who reprised their roles in other cities. O'Horgan or the authors sometimes took new ideas and improvisations from a regional show and brought them back to New York, such as when live chickens were tossed onto the stage in Los Angeles.
It was rare for so many productions to run simultaneously during an initial Broadway run. Producer Michael Butler, who had declared that Hair is "the strongest anti-war statement ever written", said the reason that he opened so many productions was to influence public opinion against the Vietnam War and end it as soon as possible.
A German production, directed by Castelli, opened in 1968 in Munich; the tribe included Donna Summer and Liz Mitchell (of Boney M). A successful Parisian production of Hair opened on June 1, 1969. The Australian production of Hair premiered in Sydney on June 6, 1969, playing for two years, followed by an Australian tour. It was produced by Harry M. Miller and directed by Jim Sharman. The Australian production is notable as the stage debut of popular Australian vocalist Marcia Hines. The Sydney tribe also included Sharon Redd, Reg Livermore, and John Waters.
A notable production was in the former Yugoslavia (Belgrade), the first Hair to be produced in a communist country. Directed by local female producer-director Mira Trailović and attended by Marshal Tito, the Belgrade production was a favorite of authors Rado and Ragni, with Ragni declaring "there's no middle class prejudices here". Local references added to the script included barbs aimed at Mao Ze-dong as well as Albania, Yugoslavia's traditional rival.
Other early productions were staged in Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Denmark, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria. By 1970, nineteen productions had been staged outside of North America.
The tribe recites a list of pharmaceuticals, legal and illegal ("Hashish"). Woof, a gentle soul, extols several sexual practices ("Sodomy") and says, "I grow things." He loves plants, his family and the audience, telling the audience, "We are all one." Hud, a militant African-American, is carried in upside down on a pole. He declares himself "president of the United States of love" ("Colored Spade"). In a fake English accent, Claude says that he is "the most beautiful beast in the forest" from "Manchester, England". A tribe member reminds him that he's really from . Hud, Woof and Berger declare what color they are ("I'm Black"), while Claude says that he's "invisible". The tribe recites a list of things they lack ("Ain't Got No"). Four African-American tribe members recite street signs in symbolic sequence ("Dead End").
Sheila is carried onstage ("I Believe in Love") and leads the tribe in a protest chant. The tribe reprises "Ain't Got No (Grass)". Jeanie, an eccentric young woman, appears wearing a gas mask, satirizing pollution ("Air"). She is pregnant and in love with Claude. Although she wishes it was Claude's baby, she was "knocked up by some crazy speed freak". The tribe link together LBJ (President Lyndon B. Johnson), FBI (the Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency) and LSD ("Initials"). Six members of the tribe appear dressed as Claude's parents, berating him for his various transgressions—he doesn't have a job, and he collects "mountains of paper" clippings and notes. They say that they will not give him any more money, and "the army'll make a man out of you". In defiance, Claude leads the tribe in celebrating their vitality ("I Got Life").
After handing out imaginary pills to the tribe members, saying the pills are for high profile people such as Richard Nixon, the Pope and "Alabama Wallace", Berger relates how he was expelled from high school ("Goin' Down"). Claude returns from his draft board physical, which he passed. He pretends to burn his Vietnam War draft card, which Berger reveals as a library card. Claude agonizes about what to do about being drafted.
Two tribe members dressed as tourists come down the aisle to ask the tribe why they have such long hair. In answer, Claude and Berger lead the tribe in explaining the significance of their "Hair". The tourist lady states that kids should "be free, no guilt" and should "do whatever you want, just so long as you don't hurt anyone." She observes that long hair is natural, like the "elegant plumage" of male birds ("My Conviction"). She opens her coat to reveal that she's a man in drag. As the couple leaves, the tribe calls her Margaret Mead. Sheila gives Berger a yellow shirt. He goofs around and ends up tearing it in two. Sheila voices her distress that Berger seems to care more about the "bleeding crowd" than about her ("Easy to be Hard"). Jeanie summarizes everyone's romantic entanglements: "I'm hung up on Claude, Sheila's hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger." The tribe runs out to the audience with fliers inviting them to a Be-In. Berger, Woof and another tribe member pay satiric tribute to the American flag as they fold it ("Don't Put it Down"). After young and innocent Crissy describes "Frank Mills", a boy she's looking for, the tribe participates in the "Be-In". The men of the tribe burn their draft cards. Claude puts his card in the fire, then changes his mind and pulls it out. He asks, "where is the something, where is the someone, that tells me why I live and die?" ("Where Do I Go"). The tribe emerges naked, intoning "beads, flowers, freedom, happiness."Act II Four tribe members have the "Electric Blues". After a black-out, the tribe enters worshiping "Oh Great God of Power." Claude returns from the induction center, and tribe members act out an imagined conversation from Claude's draft interview, with Hud saying "the draft is white people sending black people to make war on the yellow people to defend the land they stole from the red people". Claude gives Woof a Mick Jagger poster, and Woof, excited about the gift, says he's in love with Jagger. Three white women of the tribe tell why they like "Black Boys" ("black boys are delicious..."), and three black women of the tribe, dressed like The Supremes, explain why they like "White Boys" ("white boys are so pretty...").
Berger gives a joint to Claude that is laced with a hallucinogen. Claude starts to trip as the tribe acts out his visions ("Walking in Space"). He hallucinates that he is skydiving from a plane into the jungles of Vietnam. Berger appears as General George Washington and is told to retreat because of an Indian attack. The Indians shoot all of Washington's men. General Ulysses S. Grant appears and begins a roll call: Abraham Lincoln (played by a black female tribe member), John Wilkes Booth, Calvin Coolidge, Clark Gable, Scarlett O'Hara, Aretha Franklin, Colonel George Custer. Claude Bukowski is called in the roll call, but Clark Gable says "he couldn't make it". They all dance a minuet until three African witch doctors kill them—all except for Abraham Lincoln who says, "I'm one of you". Lincoln, after the three Africans sing his praises, recites an alternate version of the Gettysburg Address ("Abie Baby"). Booth shoots Lincoln, but Lincoln says to him, "I ain't dying for no white man".
As the visions continue, enter. One monk pours a can of gasoline over another monk, who is set afire and runs off screaming. strangle the . shoot the nuns with ray guns. people stab the astronauts with knives. kill the Chinese with bows and tomahawks. kill the Native Americans with machine guns and then kill each other. A Sergeant and two parents appear holding up a suit on a hanger. The parents talk to the suit as if it is their son and they are very proud of him. The bodies rise and play like children. The play escalates to violence until they are all dead again. They rise again ("Three Five Zero Zero") and, at the end of the trip sequence, two tribe members sing, over the dead bodies, a melody set to a Shakespeare lyric about the nobility of Man ("What A Piece of Work Is Man").
After the trip, Claude says "I can't take this moment to moment living on the streets.... I know what I want to be... invisible". As they "look at the moon" Sheila and the others enjoy a light moment ("Good Morning, Starshine"). The tribe pays tribute to an old mattress ("The Bed"). Claude is left alone with his doubts. He leaves as the tribe enters wrapped in blankets in the midst of a snow storm. They start a protest chant and then wonder where Claude has gone. Berger calls out "Claude! Claude!" Claude enters dressed in a military uniform, his hair short, but they don't see him because he is an invisible spirit. Claude says, "like it or not, they got me."
Claude and everyone sing "Flesh Failures". The tribe moves in front of Claude as Sheila and Dionne take up the lyric. The whole tribe launches into "Let the Sun Shine In", and as they exit, they reveal Claude lying down center stage on a black cloth. During the curtain call, the tribe reprises "Let the Sun Shine In" and brings audience members up on stage to dance.
(Note: This plot summary is based on the original Broadway script. The script has varied in subsequent productions.)
[T]he youth of America, especially those on college campuses, started protesting all the things that they saw wrong with America: racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual repression, violence at home and the war in Vietnam, depersonalization from new technologies, and corruption in politics.... Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again.... [Long] hair was the hippies' flag—their... symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song "My Conviction"). It symbolized equality between men and women. In addition... the hippies' chosen clothing also made statements. Drab work clothes (jeans, work shirts, pea coats) were a rejection of materialism. Clothing from other cultures, particularly the Third World and native Americans, represented their awareness of the global community and their rejection of U.S. imperialism and selfishness. Simple cotton dresses and other natural fabrics were a rejection of synthetics, a return to natural things and simpler times. Some hippies wore old World War II or Civil War jackets as way of co-opting the symbols of war into their newfound philosophy of nonviolence.
"Abie Baby" occurs during the Act 2 "trip" sequence when four African witch doctors, who have just killed various American historical, cultural and fictional characters, sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln, a black female tribe member whom they decide not to kill. The first part of the song contains racial stereotype language that one would hear black characters in old movies say, like "Yes, I's finished ... pluckin' y'all's chickens, fryin' mothers oats and grease", and "I's free now thanks to y'all Master Lincoln". Lincoln then recites a modernized version of the Gettysburg Address while a white female tribe member polishes Lincoln's shoes with her blond hair.
Generally, the tribe celebrates the hippie drugs that are hallucinogenic or "mind expanding" in nature such as LSD and marijuana, while other drugs such as speed and depressants are not met with the same approval. The latter is best summarized by Jeanie who after revealing that she is pregnant by a "speed freak" says that "methedrine is a bad scene". The song "Hashish" provides a list of pharmaceuticals, both illegal and legal, including cocaine, alcohol, LSD, cough syrup, opium and Thorazine, which is used as an antipsychotic.
In the song "Sodomy", Woof exhorts everyone to "join the holy orgy Kama Sutra". Toward the end of the Act 2, the tribe members reveal their free love tendencies when they barter back and forth about who will sleep with whom that night. Hair has a strong racial element in the various sexual themes. Female white tribe members sing about how they are sexually attracted to "Black Boys" and black female tribe sing about their similar feelings for "White Boys". Adding to this sentiment, one of the protest chants they shout is "Black, white, yellow, red. Copulate in a king-sized bed."
In addition, as Clive Barnes wrote in his original New York Times review of Hair, "homosexuality is not frowned upon." Three characters in particular—Claude, Berger and Woof—make reference, sometimes vague, to bisexual experiences and bisexuality. Woof says he has a crush on Mick Jagger, and a three-way embrace between Claude, Berger and Sheila turns into a Claude-Berger kiss. Also, Berger, Sheila and Claude live together in an East Village apartment in an arrangement that Jeanie describes as "highly unusual".
"Don't Put It Down" pokes fun at patriotism, suggesting that some people are literally "crazy" for the American flag. "Be In (Hare Krishna)" celebrates the peace movement and events like the San Francisco and Central Park Be-Ins. The tribe also at various points in the show chant protest slogans that were prevalent at the time. These include "What do we want? Peace — When do we want it? Now!" and "Do not enter the induction center". Even the upbeat song, "Let the Sun Shine In", is a call to action, to reject the darkness of war and change the world for the better.
Hair also aims its satire at the pollution caused by our civilization. Before the song "Air", Jeanie appears from a trap door in the stage wearing a gas mask. She then sings, "Welcome sulfur dioxide. Hello carbon monoxide. The air... is everywhere". In the song Jeanie suggests that pollution will eventually kill her, "vapor and fume at the stone of my tomb, breathing like a sullen perfume". Also in a comic, pro-green vein, when Woof introduces himself, he reveals his affection for nature by explaining that he "grows things" like "beets, and corn ... and sweet peas" and that he "loves the flowers and the fuzz and the trees".
Claude becomes a classic Christ figure at various points in the script. In Act I, Claude enters, saying, "I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and be forgotten," then gives benediction to the tribe and the audience. Claude suffers from indecision, and, in his Gethsemane at the end of Act I, he asks "Where Do I Go?". There are various textual allusions to Claude being on a cross, and, in the end, he is chosen to give his life for the others. Coincidentally, Ted Neeley who played Claude in Los Angeles, later portrayed the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, both as an understudy on Broadway and in the original film. Similarly, Berger can be seen as a John the Baptist figure, preparing the way for Claude.
Excerpt from "Aquarius"|
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding.
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the minds true liberation.
Songs like "Good Morning, Starshine" and "Aquarius" reflect the '60s cultural interest in astrological and cosmic concepts. "Aquarius" was the result of Rado's research into his own astrological sign. The company's astrologer, Maria Crummere, was consulted when deciding whom to cast, with Sheila usually played by a Libra or Capricorn. Berger was seen as having strong Leonine tendencies, although Ragni, the original Berger, was a Virgo (born on September 11).
Crummere was also consulted when deciding when the show would open on Broadway and in other cities. In the 1971 Broadway Playbill, it was reported that she chose April 29, 1968 for the Broadway premiere. "The 29th was auspicious... because the moon was high, indicating that people would attend in masses. The position of the 'history makers' (Pluto, Uranus, Jupiter) in the 10th house made the show unique, powerful and a money-maker. And the fact that Neptune was on the ascendancy foretold that Hair would develop a reputation involving sex."
In Mexico, where the astrologer did not pick the opening date, the show was closed down by the government after one night. She was not pleased with the date of the Boston opening, saying, "Jupiter will be in opposition to naughty Saturn, and the show opens the very day of the sun's eclipse. Terrible." Unfortunately, there was no safe time in the near future.
Symbolically, the sub-plot of Claude's indecision, leading to his repeated failure to burn his draft card, has been interpreted as a version of Hamlet, "the melancholy hippie", whose inability to take decisive action causes his demise. The symbolism is carried into the last scene, where Claude appears as a ghostly spirit among his friends wearing an army uniform in an ironic echo of an earlier scene, where he says, "I know what I want to be... invisible". According to Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, "Both [Hair and Hamlet] center on idealistic brilliant men as they struggle to find their place in a world marred by war, violence, and venal politics. They see both the luminous possibilities and the harshest realities of being human. In the end, unable to effectively combat the evil around them, they tragically succumb.
The song "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" contains portions of Ginsberg's poem "Wichita Vortex Sutra". In the psychedelic drug trip sequence, Scarlett O'Hara, from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, and activist African-American poet LeRoi Jones are portrayed.
Hair was designed in much the same way. Tom O'Horgan, the show's Broadway director, was intimately involved in the experimental theatre movement. In the transition to Broadway, O'Horgan and the writers rearranged scenes to increase the experimental aspects of the show. Hair asks its actors to assume several different characters throughout the course of the piece, and, as in Claude's psychedelic trip in Act 2, sometimes during the same scene. Both Hair and Viet Rock include rock music, borrowed heavily from mass media, and frequently break down the invisible "fourth wall" to interact with the audience. For example, in the opening number, the tribe mingles with audience members, and at the end of the show, the audience is invited on stage.
The nudity was optional for the performers. The French cast was "the nudest of the foreign groups". In some early performances, the Germans played their scene behind a big sheet labeled "CENSORED". The London cast "found the nudity the hardest to achieve. Original Broadway cast member Natalie Mosco said, "I was dead set against the nude scene at first, but I remembered my acting teacher having said that part of acting is being private in public. So I did it. According to Melba Moore, "It doesn't mean anything except what you want it to mean. We put so much value on clothing our bodies, but it doesn't mean a damn thing. It's like so much else people get uptight about. Sure, I was scared the first time. I thought 'Everybody's looking at me. I've got no protection.' Now I'm still kind of surprised that I'm standin' there naked, but I'm not embarrassed, the audience is. Donna Summer, who was in the German production, said that "it was not meant to be sexual in any way. We stood naked to comment on the fact that society makes more of nudity than killing. We worry more about someone walking around half dressed than somebody who's walking around shooting people." Rado said that "being naked in front of an audience, you're bearing your soul. Not only the soul but the whole body was being exposed. It was very apt, very honest and almost necessary."
While at Cape Town University in South Africa, MacDermot studied the music of the Bantu tribe, and he incorporated this African influence into the score of Hair. MacDermot said that he listened to "what they called quaylas... very characteristic beat, very similar to rock. Much deeper though.... Hair is very African—a lot of [the] rhythms, not the tunes so much." Quaylas stress beats on unexpected syllables, and the influence can be heard in songs like "What a Piece of Work Is Man" and "Ain't Got No Grass". MacDermot said, "My idea was to make a total funk show. They said they wanted rock & roll—but to me that translated to 'funk.'" That funk is evident throughout the score, notably in songs like "Colored Spade" and "Walking in Space".
The music in Hair runs the gamut of rock. From the rockabilly sensibilities of "Don't Put it Down" to the folk rock rhythms of "Frank Mills" and "What a Piece of Work is Man". "Easy to be Hard" is pure rhythm and blues, and protest rock anthems abound: "Ain't Got No" and "The Flesh Failures". The acid rock of "Walking in Space" and "Aquarius" are balanced by the mainstream pop of "Good Morning Starshine. Scott Miller ties the music of Hair to the hippies' political themes: "The hippies... were determined to create art of the people and their chosen art form, rock/folk music was by its definition, populist. ...the hippies' music was often very angry, its anger directed at those who would prostitute the Constitution, who would sell America out, who would betray what America stood for; in other words, directed at their parents and the government." Theatre historian John Kewnrick wrote,
The music did not resonate with everyone. Leonard Bernstein remarked "the songs are just laundry lists" and walked out of the production. Richard Rogers could only hear the beat and called it "one-third music". John Fogerty said, "Hair is such a watered down version of what is really going on that I can’t get behind it at all. Gene Lees, writing for High Fidelity, claimed that John Lennon found it "dull", and he wrote, "I do not know any musician who thinks it's good."
The show was under almost eternal re-write. Thirteen songs were added between the production at the Public Theater and Broadway, including "I Believe in Love". "The Climax" and "Dead End" were cut between the productions, and "Exanaplanetooch" and "You Are Standing on My Bed" were present in previews but cut before Broadway. The Shakespearean speech "What a piece of work is a man" was originally spoken by Claude and musicalized by MacDermot for Broadway, and "Hashish" was formed from an early speech of Berger's. More recent productions include "Hello There", "Sheila Franklin", "Oh Great God of Power", "Dead End", and "Hippie Life"—a song originally written for the film that Rado included in several productions in Europe in the mid-nineties.
RCA also released DisinHAIRited (RCA LSO-1163), an album of songs that had been written for the show, but saw varying amounts of stage time. Some of the songs were cut between the Public and Broadway, some had been left off the original cast album due to space (and, as a result, appeared on this recording with alternate lyrics), and a few were never performed onstage.
Songs from Hair have been recorded by numerous artists, including Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli. The Fifth Dimension released a medley of the two songs "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" in 1969, the year after the show opened on Broadway, which won Record of the Year and topped the charts for six weeks. Some other songs from the show became top 10 hits that year. The Cowsills's recording of the title song "Hair" climbed to #2 on the Billboard charts, "Good Morning Starshine" as sung by Oliver reached #3, and Three Dog Night's version of "Easy to Be Hard" went to #4. Another notable version of a song from Hair at the time was Nina Simone's medley "Ain't Got No — I Got Life" on her 1968 album 'Nuff Said!, which reached the top 5 on the British charts. "Good Morning Starshine" was sung on a Sesame Street episode in 1969 by cast member Bob McGrath. In 1970, ASCAP announced that "Aquarius" was played more frequently on U.S. radio and television than any other song that year.
Productions in England, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, Israel, Holland, Australia and elsewhere released cast albums, and over 1,000 vocal and/or instrumental performances of individual songs from Hair. Such broad attention was paid to the recordings of Hair that, after an unprecedented bidding war, ABC Records was willing to pay a record amount for MacDermot's next Broadway adaptation Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Television reviews were even more enthusiastic. Allan Jeffreys of ABC said the actors were "the most talented hippies you'll ever see... directed in a wonderfully wild fashion by Tom O'Horgan. Leonard Probst of NBC said "Hair is the only new concept in musicals on Broadway in years and it's more fun than any other this season". John Wingate of WOR TV praised MacDermot's "dynamic score" that "blasts and soars", and Len Harris of CBS said "I've finally found the best musical of the Broadway season... it's that sloppy, vulgar, terrific tribal love rock musical Hair.
A reviewer from Variety, on the other hand, called the show "loony" and "without a story, form, music, dancing, beauty or artistry.... It's impossible to tell whether [the cast has] talent. Maybe talent is irrelevant in this new kind of show business. Reviews in the news weeklies were mixed; Jack Kroll in Newsweek wrote, "There is no denying the sheer kinetic drive of this new Hair... there is something hard, grabby, slightly corrupt about O'Horgan's virtuosity, like Busby Berkeley gone bitchy. But a reviewer from Time wrote that although the show "thrums with vitality [it is] crippled by being a bookless musical and, like a boneless fish, it drifts when it should swim.
Reviews were mixed when Hair opened in London. Irving Wardle in The Times wrote, "Its honesty and passion give it the quality of a true theatrical celebration—the joyous sound of a group of people telling the world exactly what they feel." B. A. Young in The Financial Times agreed that Hair was "not only a wildly enjoyable evening, but a thoroughly moral one." However, W. A. Darlington, the 78-year-old critic of The Daily Telegraph, in his final review before retiring after 48 years, wrote that he had "tried hard", but found the evening "a complete bore—noisy, ugly and quite desperately funny."
By 1970, Hair was a huge financial success. Billboard reported that the various productions of the show were raking in almost $1 million a day and that royalties were collected for 300 different recordings of the show's songs. Hair also helped launch recording careers for performers Bert Sommers, Ronnie Dyson and Melba Moore, among others. Later assessments continue to disagree over the quality of the show. According to theatre writer Scott Miller, "some people can't see past the appearance of chaos and randomness to the brilliant construction and sophisticated imagery underneath." Miller notes, "Not only did many of the lyrics not rhyme, but many of the songs didn't really have endings, just a slowing down and stopping, so the audience didn't know when to applaud.... The show rejected every convention of Broadway, of traditional theatre in general, and of the American musical in specific. And it was brilliant."
Excerpts from "Hair"|
I let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees,
Give a home to the fleas in my hair.
A home for fleas, a hive for bees
A nest for birds, there ain't no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my Hair....
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair....
They'll be ga ga at the Go Go when they see me in my toga,
Hair challenged many of the norms held by Western society in 1968. The name itself was a reaction to the restrictions of civilization and consumerism and a preference for naturalism. Rado remembers that long hair "was a visible form of awareness in the consciousness expansion. The longer the hair got, the more expansive the mind was. Long hair was shocking, and it was a revolutionary act to grow long hair. It was kind of a flag, really."
The musical caused controversy when it was first staged, and the Act I finale which included male and female nudity drew considerable publicity, as it was the first time a Broadway show had seen totally naked actors and actresses. The show was also charged with the desecration of the American flag and the use of obscene language. These controversies, in addition to the anti–Vietnam War theme, attracted occasional threats and acts of violence during the show's early years and became the basis for legal actions both when the show opened in other cities and on tour. Two cases eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Boston, the Chief of the Licensing Bureau took exception to the portrayal of the American flag in the piece, saying, "anyone who desecrates the flag should be whipped on Boston Common." While the scene was removed before opening, the District Attorney's office began plans to have the show stopped based on "lewd and lascivious" actions taking place onstage. The Hair legal team obtained an injunction against criminal prosecution from the Superior Court. The D.A. appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and, at the request of both parties, five of the justices viewed the production. The justices, appalled at what they saw, ruled that "each member of the cast [must] be clothed to a reasonable extent," and the cast defiantly played the scene nude later that night, stating that the ruling was vague as to when it would take effect. The next day, April 10, 1970, the production closed, and movie houses, fearing the ruling on nudity, began excising scenes from films in their exhibition. After three Federal appellate judges reversed the Massachusetts court's ruling, the D.A. appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 4–4 decision, the Court upheld the lower court's decision, allowing Hair to re-open on May 22.
On April 26, 1971, the New York Times reported that a bomb was thrown at the exterior of the Hanna Theater in where the show was on tour, bouncing off the marquee and shattering windows in the Hanna building and nearby storefronts. That same month, the families of cast member Jonathan Johnson and stage manager Rusty Carlson died in a suspicious fire in the Cleveland hotel where 33 members of the show's troupe had been staying. The Sydney, Australia production's opening night was interrupted by a bomb scare in June 1969.
A Mexican production of Hair, directed by Castelli, opened in 1969 for one performance. The show, whose theater was located across the street from a popular local bordello, was shut down by the government, which said the production was "detrimental to the morals of youth." The cast members were forced to leave Mexico to avoid arrest.
Hair effectively marked the end of stage censorship in the United Kingdom. London's stage censor, the Lord Chamberlain, originally refused to license the musical, and the opening was delayed until Parliament passed a bill stripping him of his licensing power. In Munich, authorities threatened to close the production if the nude scene remained; however, after a local Hair spokesman declared that his relatives had been marched nude into Auschwitz, the authorities relented. In Stockholm, Sweden, where the show opened in 1968, choreographer Julie Arenal found the cast very reluctant to shed their clothes for the nude scene. In Bergen, Norway, local citizens formed a human barricade to try to prevent the performance.
Conversely, in Copenhagen, the Danish cast thought the nudity too tame and decided to walk naked up and down the aisle during the show's prelude. The Parisian production encountered little controversy, and the cast disrobed for the nude scene "almost religiously" according to Castelli, nudity being common on stage in Paris. Even in Paris there was nevertheless occasional opposition, such as when a member of the local Salvation Army used a portable loud speaker to exhort the audience to halt the presentation.
A successful movie version of Hair, with a screenplay by Michael Weller, was directed by Miloš Forman and released in 1979. Filmed primarily in New York City's Central Park and Washington Square Park, the cast includes Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, John Savage, Foley and Golden. Several of the songs were deleted, and the film's storyline departs significantly from the musical. The character of Claude is rewritten as an innocent draftee from Oklahoma, newly arrived in New York to join the military, and Sheila is a high-society debutante who catches his eye. In perhaps the greatest diversion from the stage version, a mistake leads Berger to go to Vietnam in Claude's place, where he is killed.
Original writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni were unhappy with the film. In their view, Forman failed to capture the essence of Hair; that hippies were portrayed as "oddballs" and "some sort of aberration" without any connection to the peace movement. Both are quoted as saying: "Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us." In their view, the screen version of Hair has not yet been produced.
A Montreal production of Hair mounted in 1985 was reportedly the 70th professional production of the musical. In November 1988, Michael Butler produced Hair at Chicago's Vic Theater to celebrate the shows' 20th anniversary. The production was well-received and ran until February 1989.
From 1990 to 1991, Pink Lace Productions ran a U.S. national tour of Hair that included stops in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Ragni died in 1991, but revivals continued, and MacDermot and Rado added songs to the score through the 1990s. A successful and long-running adaptation, Hair Sarajevo, AD 1992, was staged in Sarajevo as an appeal for peace. Rado directed a $1 million, 11 city national tour in 1994 that featured actors Luther Creek, Kent Dalian, Sean Jenness and Catrice Joseph. With Galt MacDermot returning to oversee the music, Rado's tour celebrated the show's 25th anniversary. A small 1990 "bus and truck" production of Hair toured Europe for over 3 years, and Rado directed various European productions from 1995 to 1999.
A production opened in Australia in 1992 and a short-lived West End revival starring John Barrowman and Paul Hipp opened at the Old Vic in London in 1993. The London production was faithful to the original, with no major plot changes. A member of the production staff said the reason it didn't run longer was because the Tribe consisted of "Thatcher's children who didn't really get it". Other productions were mounted around the world, including South Africa, where the show had been banned until the eradication of Apartheid. In 1996, original Hair producer Michael Butler brought a month-long production to Chicago, employing the Pacific Musical Theater, a professional troupe in residence at California State University, Fullerton. Butler ran the show concurrently with the 1996 Democratic National Convention, echoing the last time the DNC was in Chicago: 1968.
In 2005, a London production opened at the Gate Theatre, directed by Daniel Kramer. James Rado approved an updating of the musical's script to place it in the context of the 2003 Gulf War instead of the Vietnam War. Kramer's modernized interpretation included "Aquarius" sung over a megaphone in Times Square, and nudity that called to mind images from Abu Ghraib. In March 2006, Rado collaborated with director Robert Prior for a CanStage production of Hair in Toronto, and a revival produced by Pieter Toerien toured South Africa in 2007. Directed by Paul Warwick Griffin, with choreography by Timothy Le Roux, the show ran at the Montecasino Theatre in Johannesburg and at Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town.
For three nights in September 2007, Joe's Pub and the Public Theater presented a 40th anniversary production of Hair at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. This concert version, directed by Diane Paulus, featured Jonathan Groff of Spring Awakening as Claude and Galt MacDermot on stage on the keyboards. The cast also included Karen Olivo, Will Swenson, Darius Nichols, Patina Renea Miller and Megan Lawrence. Actors from the original Broadway production joined the cast on stage during the encore of "Let the Sun Shine In." Demand for the show was overwhelming, as long lines and overnight waits for tickets "dwarfed" other Delacorte productions such as Mother Courage and Her Children toplined by Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.
Michael Butler produced Hair at the MET Theater in Los Angeles from September 14 through December 30, 2007. The show was directed and choreographed by Bo Crowell, with musical direction from Christian Nesmith (son of Michael Nesmith). The Tribe featured James Barry, Lee Ferris, Johanna Unger, Dawn Worrall and Trance Thompson. Butler's production of Hair won the LA Weekly musical of the year award.
Nine months after its concert version, The Public Theater opened Hair in a fully staged production at the Delacorte Theater on July 22, 2008. The limited run, extended three times, is scheduled to close on September 14, 2008. Diane Paulus again directs, with choreography by Karole Armitage. Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson reprised their 2007 roles as Claude and Berger. Caryn Lyn-Manuel plays Sheila, and Cry-Baby's Christopher J. Hanke replaced Groff as Claude on August 17. Reviews have been mostly positive, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times writing that "this production establishes the show as more than a vivacious period piece. "Hair," it seems, has deeper roots than anyone remembered". Time magazine wrote, "Hair has not just been revived; it has been reinvigorated and reclaimed as one of the great milestones in musical-theatre history.... Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.
The Public Theatre has announced that the production will transfer to Broadway in 2009, but no theatre or date has been set.
Songs from the show continue to be recorded by major artists. In the 90's, Evan Dando's group The Lemonheads recorded "Frank Mills" for their 1992 record It's A Shame About Ray, and Run DMC sampled "Where Do I Go" for their 1993 single "Down With the King" which went to #1 on the Billboard rap charts and reached the top 25 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mike Doughty borrows the refrain from "Let the Sun Shine In" in the song "Fort Hood" from his 2008 record Golden Delicious. In 2004, "Aquarius" was honored at number 33 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs.
Songs from the musical have been featured in films and television episodes. For example, in the 2005 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the character Willy Wonka welcomed the children with lyrics from "Good Morning Starshine". "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" was performed in the final scene in the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Three Dog Night's recording of "Easy to be Hard" was featured in the first part of David Fincher's film Zodiac. On the Simpsons episode "The Springfield Files", the townspeople, Leonard Nimoy, Chewbacca, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder all sing "Good Morning Starshine. In addition, Head of the Class featured a two-part episode in 1990 where the head of the English department is determined to disrupt the school's performance of Hair. The continued popularity of Hair is seen in its number ten ranking in a 2006 BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the "[United Kingdom]'s Number One Essential Musicals.
Owing to the universality of its pacifist theme and the parallels that can be drawn between the Vietnam and later wars, the musical remains a favorite production for high-schools and universities. Amateur productions of Hair are also popular worldwide. In 2002, Peter Jennings featured a Boulder, Colorado high school production of Hair for his ABC documentary series "In Search of America". A September 2006 community theater production at the 2,000-seat Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, was praised by original producer Michael Butler, who said it was "one of the best Hairs I have seen in a long time. Another example of a recent large-scale amateur production is the Mountain Play production at the 4,000-seat Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley, California in the spring of 2007.
While the development of the concept musical was an unexpected consequence of Hair's tenure on Broadway, the expected rock music revolution on Broadway turned out to be less than complete. MacDermot followed his Hair success with three successive rock scores: Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971); a second collaboration with Ragni, Dude (1972); and Via Galactica (1972). While Two Gentlemen of Verona found receptive audiences and a Tony for Best Musical, Dude failed after just sixteen performances, and Via Galactica flopped after a month later. Grease (1975) reverted to the rock sounds of the Fifties, and Purlie (1970), Raisin (1973), and The Wiz (1975) were heavily influenced by gospel, R&B and soul music. Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and Godspell (1971) and were two religiously-themed successes of the genre. Pippin (musical) (1972) and The Rocky Horror Show (1973) are other examples of successful rock musicals.
By the late 1970s, the genre had played itself out. Except for a few outposts of rock, like Dreamgirls (1981) and Little Shop of Horrors (1982), audience tastes turned, in the 1980s, to shows with European pop scores, like Les Miserables (1985) and The Phantom of the Opera (1986). The success of Rent (1996) and Spring Awakening (2006) point to a renaissance in the genre.
Horn explained why the rock musical did not come to dominate the musical theatre stage after Hair: "Such failures may have been the result of producers simply relying on the label 'rock musical' to attract audiences without regard to the quality of the material presented." Critic Clive Barnes, responding to the statement that there were a few rock musicals said, "There really weren't any rock musicals. No major rock musician ever did a rock score for Broadway.... You might think of the musical Tommy, but it was never conceived as a Broadway show.... And one can see why. There's so much more money in records and rock concerts. I mean, why bother going through the pain of a musical which may close in Philadelphia?"
On the other hand, Hair had a profound effect not only on what was acceptable on Broadway, but as part of the very social movements that it celebrated. As Ellen Stewart, La Mama's founder, noted:
Hair came with blue jeans, comfortable clothing, colors, beautiful colors, sounds, movement.... And you can go to AT&T and see a secretary today, and she's got on blue jeans.... You can go anywhere you want, and what Hair did, it is still doing twenty years later.... A kind of emancipation, a spiritual emancipation that came from [O'Horgan's] staging.... Hair until this date has influenced every single thing that you see on Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, anywhere in the world, you will see elements of the experimental techniques that Hair brought not just to Broadway, but to the entire world.