July 15, 2009
It started last summer. A thick blanket of humidity covered New York
City. The war in Iraq carried on. President Bush was nearing the end
of his eight-year reign. America was ready for its next chapter. With
all of the elements aligned, a raucous musical sprouted up in the
middle of Central Park. It aimed to celebrate life and provide a
rallying cry for change. A free production, presented by the Public
Theater, played to anyone willing to wait in line. The show was Hair.
Everyone was welcome.
Equality is a key message running throughout Hair, the 1967 musical
that originally forced people to look at so-called "hippies," not
with disdain or fear but with understanding. While the days of the
original Haight-Ashbury culture is gone, Hair remains culturally
relevant. And now it's another alternative lifestyle that has found
meaning in the period piece.
Hair has become a champion for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender community. LGBT people are demanding equality. California
is currently under pressure to overturn Proposition 8, a measure
banning gays from marrying in the state. Meanwhile, this year has
seen some gay rights progress in New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa,
Connecticut and Maine. Former President Bill Clinton has now voiced
support for same-sex marriage. And now Hair is doing the same.
Producers of the current Broadway revival of Hair will cancel the
show's October 11th performance and send the cast to Washington D.C.
to participate in the National Equality March. Oskar Eustis, artistic
director of The Public Theater, decided to join the cause in support
of gay marriage, saying, "Hair has never been just a show; its
message of change and hope and inclusion is one we try to live, not
Following the smash run in Central Park, Hair successfully
transferred to Broadway's Al Hirshfeld Theatre. Yet, despite its warm
summer reception, the transfer wasn't very smooth. Producers had a
difficult time finding investors, especially as the economy began to
suffer. And some questioned whether Hair could convince theatergoers
to pay for a ticket to a show they just saw for free. Patrons and
critics disagreed once it opened on March 31, 2009. Hair even went on
to win this year's Tony Award for Best Musical Revival and is now
playing to sold-out houses.
The unprecedented decision to cancel a performance in order to join
the National Equality March comes on the heels of another admirable
move by the Hair team. They packed the show up, for one night, and
traveled to Los Angeles where the Broadway cast performed on The
Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. While on the west coast, Hair
members joined in on a Los Angeles equality rally along with Cleve
Jones, organizer of the upcoming march.
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
It isn't hard to find timeless advice in any of Gerome Ragni and
James Rado's lyrics, nor is there any denying that director Diane
Paulus has tapped into a new breed of social activism. This latest
Broadway revival of Hair infuses audiences with feelings of love and
acceptance. As the cast prepares for October's National Equality
March, it can only be hoped that the love running through the Al
Hirshfeld Theatre each night will infect all those taking part in
D.C. and, hopefully, the rest of the world.