'Hair's' bohemian chic is still hip
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ
Monday, July 21st 2008
When "Hair" starts previews Monday in Central Park, it will be a
flashback to the 1960s, the decade the rock musical debuted. That era
that looks a lot like today: an unpopular war was raging, young
people were keyed up about activism, and people let it all hang out
Naked Cowboy-style to express their freedom.
But in this reincarnation of the seminal show at the Delacorte
Theater, some of the biggest things on parade are the costumes.
"Hair" costumer Michael McDonald looked to rock stars Donovan, Jimi
Hendrix and Janis Joplin for inspiration in putting together the
looks for the cast in the groundbreaking musical about youths
rebelling against conservative authority and the Vietnam War.
Director Diane Paulus, who also staged the concert version of the
show last summer, was a stickler for authenticity, says McDonald:
"It's so easy to make it look like a Halloween party." No-nos
included tie-dyed shirts and elephant bell-bottoms.
"Too '70s," he says. He speaks with authority. McDonald researched
the era extensively, studying footage of the '67 Monterey Pop
Festival for reference.
Basic looks started with T-shirts and jeans, which were then
embellished with trims, from shells and beads to lace along the seams.
Vests with fur trim and sheepskin jackets were a nod to rock 'n'
roll. Military-inflected jackets were popular among both men and
women protesting the war or just Mom and Dad. And even though it was
the Summer of Love, everyone was burning up in hand-dyed velvets.
For the show, some of the clothes onstage came from people's closets.
Many were found at a rental shop, Scaramouche Costumes, in Chester,
N.J. Jeans came from What Goes Around Comes Around and Levi's. The
pair worn by Jonathan Groff, who stars as Claude, came from J.C.
Penney. "It's the only place I could find a pair with the right
wash," says McDonald.
One of the costumer's favorite looks is worn by an actress who plays
a member of the tribe. "It's this eccentric vintage robe that was an
old tablecloth," he says. "It's trimmed in decrepit orange feathers.
It's a real hippie garment, right from the '60s."
So it's right for 2008.
Whether you label the look "bohemian," "hippie chic" or simply
"'60s," it has never gone out of style.
From DKNY's floppy hats to Roberto Cavalli's embroidered
minidresses, designers are heading back in time for inspiration.
"The '60s were one of the most dynamic decades in fashion," says Jen
Ford, Luckymagazine's fashion news director. "There was this visual
explosion of textures, color, fabrications. The looks were laid-back
"Today, people want to tap back into that feel-good fashion," adds
Ford, who recommends copping the period's floppy hats, printed tops
and vintage fur vests at local boutiques like Intermix and Sweet Tater.
At the store Screaming Mimis downtown, maxi-dresses and elaborately
embroidered tops are brisk sellers, says owner Laura Wills: "The
hippie look today has taken on some jet-set glamour. Girls have
embraced head scarves again."
At vintage-clothing store Allan & Suzi on the upper West Side,
'60s-style fringed pieces are favorites of customers and co-owner
"How could you not love it it's '60s, and the '60s reeked of
freedom," he says. "I love fringe. It moves, and it's very sexy.
Everybody looks like little rock stars in it."
"Hair" runs tomorrow through Aug. 31. Tickets are free and may be
available on the day of the performance at the Delacorte or via the
Public's new online lottery at www.publictheater.org.
"Hair": Reviving The Revolution
Through Aug. 31 at Delacorte Theater
By FRANK RIZZO | Courant Staff Writer
July 20, 2008
James Rado sits in the lobby of New York's Public Theater, the
building where the musical "Hair" began its journey.
The "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" moved in 1968 from
off-Broadway's Public to Broadway's Biltmore, where it played for
Rado, now 76, was co-writer of both the book and lyrics with Gerome
Ragni and played the draftee Claude in the Broadway show. Galt
MacDermot composed the songs, some of which became anthems of the era.
Wearing a "Serenity Now/Insanity Later" T-shirt and blue kerchief
covering his head, Rado looks the part of the counterculture elder.
He talked about the beginnings of his singular sensation and the
revival of "Hair," which starts performances Tuesday at the Delacorte
Theater in New York's Central Park.
Rado, born James Radomski, followed a professional acting route in
the '60s, appearing in Broadway productions of "The Lion in Winter"
with Rosemary Harris and Robert Preston, and as a romantic lead in
the musical "She Loves Me" at the Charles Street Playhouse in Boston.
But he increasingly was coming under the spell of the burgeoning
experimental theater movement and the emerging counterculture.
"Suddenly this other thing was happening around the streets with
be-ins and everything," he said. "As someone said to us recently, we
felt we were in our own supernatural vortex."
Rado and Ragni, whom he met in 1964, moved into a $75-a-month flat in
Hoboken, N.J., where they borrowed a manual typewriter from their
downstairs landlord and start writing a script.
"The title came upon us one day when we were touring the Whitney
Museum, where there was an exhibit of American painters. We came
around a corner, and there was a painting of a comb and a couple
strands of hair, and it was a very blank canvas. We looked at the
title,and it was 'Hair,' and I said to Jerry, 'What a strange name
for a painting' and then forgot about it completely. But a few months
later, we were working on the show, and Jerry said, 'I think I've got
the title for the show.' I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'Hair.' I
said, 'Oh, no.' It was such a shocking title in its time, and it took
a me a while to get used to it, but it grew on me, and I loved it.
"It 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."
Rado says "Hair" was launched professionally, thanks to a chance
meeting on a train ride from New Haven to New York in 1967.
"Gerry was in an Open Theater production of the anti-war play 'Viet
Rock' at the new Yale Repertory Theatre, and Joe Papp [the late
producing director of the off-Broadway Public Theater] was teaching a
course at Yale. They were on the same train back to New York, and
Gerry recognized him and handed him the script to 'Hair,' which was
in a fake leather binder. He called back in two weeks."
But Rado says the show's creators saw Broadway as their ultimate goal
and attempted to get commercial interest in the show, including
wooing famed producer David Merrick. The producer's assistant, Biff
Liff, heard the score and returned to the producer of "Hello, Dolly!"
to give his report.
"David said, 'What's it about?'," recounts Rado. "Biff who is our
agent now said, 'Well, it's about hippies, street people and it's
anti-war.' David said, 'You must be joking.'"
"But we always wanted it to be for the uptown, not the downtown
crowd," says Rado.
The off-Broadway production opened in 1967. Tom O'Horgan, whom Rado
and Ragni wanted to stage the work, was not available, and Papp
insisted that his associate artistic director, Gerald Freedman, stage
the show. Ming Cho Lee (now at Yale School of Drama) was its set designer.
"It was a bit of a rocky road," says Rado. There were conflicts
between the director and the show's creators, and Freedman left the
show, only to return in time to get it in shape for opening night.
"Opening night is a bit vague in my memory," says Rado. "But I
remember doing an interview with the L.A. Times, where I coined the
phrase which I regretted after that this is 'a non-book musical.'
Since then, people think there's no book."
After the hot off-Broadway run, the show moved to the Cheetah
discotheque in December 1967 for 45 performances "to keep the
momentum going" until it secured a Broadway berth with producer
Michael Butler who bought the show from Papp and the Public. Rado
became Claude, joining his writing partner on stage, and O'Horgan,
now available, was director.
The show became an immediate sensation, shaking Broadway audiences
with its rock music, profanity and brief nudity (an option for the
actors). But it lost out for the Tony Award for best musical to "1776."
"These were two shows about revolution, but the Tony voters liked the
old-fashioned kind, several centuries away," says Rado. "Besides, I
think some people were upset with 'Hair's breakthrough success. After
all, who were we anyway, and where did we come from?"
"Hair" ran more than four years.
Rado and Ragni chose Milos Foreman to make the film version, "and
came to sort of regret it." Rado felt the 1979 movie, which presented
a different story, did not capture the spirit of "Hair."
"We've gone back to a lot of the original stuff and story," says Rado
of the new Central Park production, which has Broadway buzzing. "We
feel that it's interesting for a modern-day audience, and the new
director [Diane Paulus] wanted to bring it back. So we're weaving it
all together into a new tapestry.
"But I think it also needs actors who are trained in theater to
interpret this piece now, to get into it and deliver it well, to
bring out the story and characters and relationships.
"I think the people who lived through that period will be intensely
moved to be there again. It was such an unusual time, such a powerful
time, and I think they will want to relive it. I also think the young
people have heard so much about it from the elders that they are very
curious about it, too. I know in colleges they're very interested in
what happened in the '60s and early '70s.
"It was a show about now when we did it," says Rado. "Now it's a show
about then but it's still about now. It's a kind of history play
now, but at the same time we want it to be as vital and vibrant. Yes,
we're here in the present, and we see the parallels and ironies."
Did the world change?
"It didn't quite make it in some ways, but in some ways it did. I
think the world will never be the same. I think a great deal of
honesty and openness came about from the things we did. A lot of
taboos were broken for our ultimate good health. I don't think it
was for naught. You see it today in the society. Young people today
are freer in many ways as a result of what happened back then."
Diane Paulus, 41, "was just a baby" when "Hair" opened on Broadway.
But she was hooked on the film's soundtrack as a young girl and was
soon singing along to "Sodomy."
Now she is directing a major revival of the musical. The free
production, which runs until the end of August, will feature most of
the cast in her concert version, which played for three performances
last fall. The show stars Jonathan Groff (Tony Award nominee from
"Spring Awakening") as Claude and Will Swenson ("110 in the Shade,"
"Lestat") as his buddy Berger. The cast is made up of actors in their
late teens to early '20s several of them not born before the George
H.W. Bush administration. They will be joined onstage for the finale
each night by "Hair" alumni.
"I didn't think it was necessary to update," says Paulus, who is also
taking over as artistic director of American Repertory Theatre in
Cambridge, Mass. "I really wanted to go back to the time that the
show is written in and set in. I wanted to capture that from the
inside out and what it was to be alive at that time, and not just
deal with the surface look and the fashion thing of the hippies. To
me, it was about the passion of how young people felt and how
necessary they felt about their world."
An attempt to revive the show in 1977 failed, and Paulus says the
connection to an audience may depend on what is happening in the
world beyond the stage.
"After 9/11 would not have been the perfect moment for a revival,"
she says. "We feel we are at the right time. To me what is so
touching about the counterculture movement [of the '60s and early
'70s] was the feeling young people had that they could change the
world. We've been through a period when young people have been way
out of touch with that. I teach college kids, and for some time
they've felt, 'What's wrong with us that we've been labeled as an
"But with the war in Iraq and the presidential campaign, there is a
kind of zeitgeist, and young people are beginning to feel that maybe
they can express themselves and make a difference. I think it's
relevant to what it's like to be alive in 2008. I think this is the
time for the show."
HAIR will play at the Delacorte Theater in New York's Central Park
starting Tuesday and continuing through Aug. 31. Performances are
Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. Admission is free. Tickets and
information: 212-539-8750. The majority of the tickets are
distributed beginning at 1 p.m. each performance day at the
Delacorte. Some are also distributed via the Public Theater website
and its virtual "line," which replaces distribution at The Public's
Reserved Summer Supporter tickets ($165 donation) are available on
the Public Theater website, by calling 212-967-7555, and at the box
office at 425 Lafayette St. in New York.
Contact Frank Rizzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.