Hippie replacement - Hair returns to London's West End
After 40 years the musical Hair is returning to the West End stage,
courtesy of Cameron Mackintosh.
By Mick Brown
27 Mar 2010
One of the impresario Cameron Mackintosh's first theatrical jobs was
working on the "tribal rock musical" Hair, first as a runner on the
original London production and then as the company manager of a
production in Scotland.
'It was the most wonderful experience,' he now remembers. On his last
night with the show, swept up in the exuberance of the moment,
Mackintosh allowed himself to be persuaded by the cast to join them
at the end of Act One for the show's most notorious scene.
So it was, Mackintosh says, that he made his first and last nude
appearance on the professional stage.
Even before then, Hair had established a number of significant
firsts. When it opened in London on September 27 1968 it was the
first theatrical production following the abolition one day after,
to be precise of the Lord Chamberlain's role as theatre censor, a
role that had been in existence for some 230 years to prohibit the
performance of any play 'for the preservation of good manners,
decorum or of the public peace'.
Not coincidentally, it was also the first theatrical production to
portray full-frontal nudity on a West End stage. It was also the
first mixed-race musical, the first rock musical, and certainly the
first to include songs celebrating hashish, LSD and, as one
song-title succinctly put it, Sodomy.
Hair threw together every convulsion what has come to be regarded
as every cliche of the hippie movement: free love, war-resisters,
astrology, psychedelic drugs, rock'n'roll, hippies dressed like
American Indians, young, beautiful bodies naked!
It also contained as memorable a body of songs as any musical of the
post-war period. Aquarius, Let the Sun Shine In, Ain't Got No and I
Got Life all sprang from the show on to the pop charts in both their
original and cover versions. The work of Andrew Lloyd Webber
notwithstanding, probably no other musical has produced quite so many hits.
That may not, at first blush, appear quite enough to make Hair
anything more than a nostalgic curio, let alone a runaway box-office
success more than 40 years on. But that is precisely what it has become.
Next week the curtain will go up on a new production of the show that
Mackintosh is staging at London's Gielgud Theatre, following on from
the show's run on Broadway, where it has proved one of the great
astonishments of New York theatre.
In 2007 the New York Public Theatre, which had staged the very first
production of Hair in 1967, mounted a handful of 'concert
performances' in Central Park to celebrate the show's 40th
anniversary. They proved so popular that it led to a theatrical run
at the Public's Delacorte Theatre in the Park. At that point
Mackintosh was approached to see if he would be interested in putting
some money into the show for a possible London transfer. Without
having seen it, he declined.
In February last year the show transferred to Broadway, where it has
been playing to packed houses. It is that same production that is now
about to open in London the first occasion that a full original
Broadway cast, in this case of 26 people, has transferred to a London stage.
'I only went to see it on Broadway because someone I respect very
much said I would be mad to miss it,' Mackintosh says. 'And they were
right. I was bowled over by the fervour and commitment of the production.'
Hair tells the story of a 'tribe' of hippies in New York's East
Village in 1967 and their attempts to prevent one of their number,
Claude, from being drafted into the army to fight the war in Vietnam.
They fail, and Claude dies. So far, so thin. But what the show does
triumphantly, exhilaratingly is summon not only the spirit of
idealism, the generational faultlines and the sense of intense
communality of the era, but also the hope, confusion and anger of
waning adolescence and early adulthood in a way that is utterly timeless.
James Rado, who along with Gerome Ragni conceived and wrote Hair, is
now in his seventies (he declines to specify his age), a quietly
spoken man who sidles into the New York restaurant where we have
arranged to meet dressed in sweatshirt and jeans; he has a thick head
of grey hair that, like the show itself, seems to have remained
The son of a college professor, Rado had served in the US Navy and
studied with Lee Strasberg, and was working on Broadway when he met
Ragni, an actor who had been working primarily in experimental
theatre. The pair moved in together, and in 1965, inspired by the
burgeoning hippie movement around the East Village, began writing Hair.
Rado was already in his thirties, in an era when, as the
counter-culture maxim had it, nobody over 30 was to be trusted. 'I
was a bit older, but I was very drawn to the idealism of the
hippies,' he remembers. 'I felt it was almost spiritual, a cause.
People were communicating in their own way, they were letting their
hair grow, trying to form a culture, a new way of living based on
this notion of love, for humanity and for each other in person.'
Hair, Rado says, was conceived almost in a 'missionary' spirit. 'We
were aiming for Broadway because we wanted it to reach the people who
were probably never in the presence of hippies. I was under the
impression that most people were at home watching television and only
got glimpses of these things, however the media filtered it or
portrayed it. But to actually be at these places and among these
people was very thrilling for us; we were really turned on by all this.'
Rado and Ragni pieced together the elements of Hair from what they
saw on the streets. Slogans and slang were rifled from the posters
waved at anti-war protests and the pages of underground magazines.
The character of Berger, the extrovert leader of the 'tribe', was
inspired by a figure whom Rado and Ragni happened upon one day in
'He was this wild-haired character, like a cross between man and
animal,' Rado recalls. 'He was crouching on a wall, half-naked
well, more than half-naked telling people how to go to the
bathroom, that it was much healthier for the intestines to squat. Of
course, this was very far out, and I thought very funny.
'There was another person I remember, a young man we met one day on
St Mark's Place. He was the epitome of what you would imagine a
flower-child to be, very gentle, very sweet, just totally non-macho,
the opposite of what the American male was supposed to be at that
time. That was very fetching to me, and he became a model for many
people in the show.'
The partnership of Rado and Ragni was complemented with the arrival
of Galt MacDermot, who was to write the score for Hair. A jazz
musician and composer, MacDermot was even less of a hippie than Rado
He would later describe how his collaborators would drag him down to
the East Village to soak up the atmosphere. 'They'd say, "You've got
to see how these people live or you won't be able to write this kind
of music." Everybody thought I was a nark because I was wearing a tie
and white shirt. It was a little embarrassing.'
In 1967 the finished work came to the attention of Joe Papp, the
director of the New York Public Theatre, a not-for-profit group that
had originally been established to bring Shakespeare to the masses.
Hair became the company's first production in its new Anspacher
Its gestation was chaotic. Martin Aronstein, the production designer,
described the script as 'one of the most extraordinarily misshapen,
totally unfocused, weird pieces of writing I've ever seen.' The
original director, Jerry Freedman, was hired, fired and hired again
in the space of a week.
The show opened on October 17 1967. Few people expected it to survive
past its initial six-week run until the intervention of a Chicago
businessman, Michael Butler, who was planning on running for the US
Senate on an anti-war platform. Butler was so impressed by the show
he bought the rights, and as producer took it on, initially to a
Greenwich Village nightclub, the Cheetah, and then, in a radically
revised version, to Broadway, where it opened in April 1968, with
Gerome Ragni in the role of Berger.
In its first year, three members of the prestigious New York Drama
Critics' Circle, including the all-powerful Clive Barnes, voted Hair
best musical of the year. It went on to run for nearly 2,000
performances, and within a year 23 companies were performing the show
in 10 countries.
The irony was, of course, that by then the blissed-out idealism of
the Summer of Love, which Hair had been conceived to celebrate, had
already begun to evaporate. In October 1967, a fortnight before the
show's very first performance, a hippie couple were found murdered in
the basement boiler room of a tenement building in the East Village
where, a year before, Rado and Ragni had roamed in wide-eyed wonder
prompting a spate of newspaper articles hastily revising the picture
of the neighbourhood from flower-children's playground to urban
ghetto, quoting one resident as saying, 'There's no love here any
more. Everyone is scared to death.'
Only a few days earlier in San Francisco the birthplace of the
Summer of Love dozens of 'mourners' had gathered in Golden Gate
Park for a faux-funeral to mark the death of 'Hippie', killed off by
overexposure and rampant commercialism.
To champions of the counter-culture, Hair was seen as a symptom of
precisely that commercial exploitation. When the show opened in
London in 1968 the underground newspaper IT suggested that the
producers might wish to make a contribution of one per cent of their
weekly take to give
to underground groups such as the Arts Lab and Release. 'We all got
very upset,' Steve Mann of IT would later remember. 'We thought,
"There's these people, they're making an awful lot of money out of
the hippies and we want some." It wasn't so much we wanted it for
ourselves, but we did want to spread it around.'
The producers, unsurprisingly, declined to pay up, which led to the
surreal spectacle of 'real' hippies picketing the theatre. (At the
other end of the cultural spectrum, The Daily Telegraph's eminent
theatre critic, 78-year-old WA Darlington, in his last review before
retiring, expressed bewilderment at the show, writing that he had
'tried hard', but found it 'a complete bore'.)
There have been numerous revivals of Hair since then, some of which
have tried to restyle the show in a calculated attempt to make it
relevant to contemporary audiences. A 1989 production staged by Bill
Kenwright included a scene where the cleaned-up hippies regroup at
the Washington War Memorial 22 years on to pay their respects to
Claude. 'Oh my God,' Rado winces at the memory. 'Big mistake. No, no…'
A 2005 production at the Gate Theatre in London saw Claude signing up
for the war in Iraq, complete with an iPod and Prozac.
'We've let people experiment with it over the years, and we've tried
to update it ourselves,' Rado says, 'but it's never worked.'
The new production makes no concessions to modernity, drawing from
both the original off-Broadway and Broadway productions, shedding
some old songs and dialogue, and adding new dialogue written by Rado
with the objective of streamlining the story and heightening Claude's
dilemma over whether to resist or surrender to the draft. 'There's
more urgency to it now,' Rado says. 'We've upped the stakes a bit, in
a way that makes it more relevant and more pointed, because there are
still wars going on.
'When we first put the show on a lot of it was shocking and very
revolutionary and new, and that's exactly what we wanted to
communicate to that audience. That shock element is no longer there,
but the ecstatic element of the way the tribe exists is something to
be shared now; you are there, experiencing what it was like to be
there for these people. There was no drug known as Ecstasy in those
days, but there was an ecstasy in the movement, and that's what comes
The famous (or perhaps notorious) scene at the end of Act One when
the cast stands naked in a moment of self-revelatory celebration has,
of course, been preserved. Rado says it was inspired by an event that
took place at a 'be-in' in Central Park, when two men in the midst of
the crowd took off their clothes. 'Everybody around was just amazed
and astounded. It was the perfect hippie happening, and we felt it
had to be in the play.'
Joe Papp refused to include the scene in the original production. But
it was reinstated by the director Tom O'Horgan when the show
transferred to Broadway under a New York statute that allowed nudity
on the condition that actors should not be moving but standing still.
In keeping with the libertarian spirit of the day there was no
obligation for cast members to strip off; in keeping with the
commercial instincts of Broadway, they were paid a $10 bonus if they did.
Oskar Eustis, the present artistic director of the Public Theatre,
laughingly describes it as 'the most famous nude scene in
Anglo-American theatre. It's unbelievable people still talk about it.
It only lasts for 30 seconds, and it was much more dimly lit back
then.' (So dimly lit that the American comedian Jack Benny, attending
a London performance, was prompted to joke, 'Did you happen to notice
if any of them were Jewish?')
'While this is a very sexy production, there is nothing remotely
salacious about it,' Eustis says.
'I think it still has a real impact because you feel these performers
are engaging in this act not so much out of defiance but of courage.'
None of the cast is obliged to do it, he adds. 'And nor are we paying
Hair is particularly dear to Eustis's heart. At the age of 14, he
stowed away on a ship from Copenhagen, where his mother and
stepfather had moved to from America, and came to Britain, where he
ended up dancing on stage in Hair. 'That was a huge deal for me,' he
says. 'I don't think it consciously occurred to me that this was a
profession I could belong to, but I was smart enough to know that
this is a bunch of hippies dancing on stage, but it's also a theatre
and maybe there's a place in the world for me.'
The show, he believes, still retains the same capacity to inspire a
new generation for whom the 1960s are little more than a rumour.
'Hair is from a pre-ironic sensibility,' Eustis says, 'and to me the
greatest victory of this production is that there is nothing cynical,
ironical, commenting, winking or nudging about it. It is a study in
earnestness. And if you actually take that earnestness seriously, and
connect to that belief that our emotional purity can actually change
the world, it's very powerful.'
For Cameron Mackintosh it is the sense of youthful idealism, and of
frustration with the status quo, that resonates most strongly across
the years, and that makes Hair more than just an exercise in
nostalgia. 'The way this production has been shaped, it isn't just
about the Vietnam war,' he says. 'It speaks very much to young people
now, and their feeling of impotence at a time when the system set up
by their elders is failing, whether it's the lack of opportunities or
the wars that keep happening all over the world and the knowledge
that it's their responsibility to deal with it. It challenges young
people and asks, what are you going to do now? That's what I found so
contemporary about it.'
When the first production of Hair opened in 1967 the cast was what
the director Jerry Freedman would remember as 'a lot of undisciplined
young kids. They were stoned most of the time and they thought that
was cool. I remember slamming one kid, Paul Jabara, against the wall
and saying, "If you come in here high again you're out on your
ass."?' (Jabara would go on to write a number of pop hits, including
It's Raining Men, before dying of Aids in 1992.)
The original London cast included such aspiring actors as Paul
Nicholas, Marsha Hunt and Tim Curry. The present Broadway cast is
made up of a mixture of young unknowns and actors with some
experience in musicals such as Hairspray, Wicked and We Will Rock
You. A number of them have their own websites. Some wear wigs. None,
of course, was alive in the 1960s.
By way of preparation, the director Diane Paulus gave the cast
study-packs, including period photographs, a timeline of events,
major characters (who was Janis Joplin, exactly?), a list of drugs
and contemporary slang words; they were also encouraged to talk to
their parents and grandparents. 'It's been a matter of finding out
their own personal history, not just American history,' Paulus says.
Paulus herself 'missed the 60s. But I had an elder brother and sister
who lived them, and the Hair soundtrack was part of my life. I was
screaming Sodomy at the top of my lungs when I was seven years old.'
What she has attempted to do, she says, is to awaken the same spirit
of idealism among the cast, fostering a sense of cameraderie and
closeness that goes further than mere esprit de corps. 'They've
mostly been together now for more than two years, and for all of us
doing Hair has not been about "a gig" or "a show". It's been about
joining this movement and awakening them as performers and activists
on this journey together. And that's the beautiful thing about it.
You cannot be just an actor in this show. You have to engage your
heart, mind and soul and do it every night.'
The idealism seems to have been contagious. Gavin Creel, who plays
Claude, and is perhaps the best-known member of the cast, says that
performing in Hair has had 'a transformative effect' on his life.
Creel came somewhat later to the cast, joining when the show opened
on Broadway. 'Before I joined they were saying, "The rest of the
tribe is so excited you're going to be in it."
I thought, the rest of the tribe? It sounded so… hippie-dippy. But I
am that person now. It's woken up activism to me, love to me, in a
way that I've never had it wake up before.'
Joining the show, and studying the period, he says, has brought him a
better understanding of the radicalism of the 1960s. 'I always liked
the style of the period, but I didn't realise the desperation that
was attached to it, like people running away from home because they
felt misunderstood or wanted to be themselves. And I came to realise
in my own journey as a gay man what it is to be with people who
recognise you and accept you.'
Along with a friend, Creel has now set up a pressure group, Broadway
Impact, to campaign to overturn the California Supreme Court ban on
same-sex marriages. 'For me, it's the civil rights movement of our
time,' he says. In October the production closed for a day for the
entire company to be bused to Washington, DC, to take part in the
National Equality March. 'That probably cost us $150,000,' Eustis
says. 'But there was no opposition from any of the producers when I
proposed doing it. They all got that it was more important to hold to
the spirit of what this thing stands for than to make a few shekels.'
For James Rado, Hair was to prove something of a mixed blessing.
Suggest that the show must have made him a wealthy man and he gives a
wry smile. 'You would think so, but I think we must have been screwed
in a way, because I'm not that wealthy. It keeps rolling in, but I'm
always under a million it seems.' He laughs. 'It's been a livelihood.
But it changes your life; it's like a corporation or something, this
huge thing that's suddenly there.'
It proved a hard act to follow. For a time, he says, he and Ragni
were at a loss as to what to do with their lives, and they eventually
parted. Rado, who had written music in his college days, wanted to
try his hand at composing 'that was part of the conflict,' he says
and in 1972 collaborated with his brother Ted on a musical,
Rainbow. Starring Meat Loaf, it ran for only 48 performances off-Broadway.
Ragni, meanwhile, collaborated with Galt MacDermot on Dude, an
ambitious, and grievously misconceived, musical about good and evil
that cost $800,000 to stage, mystified critics and closed after 16
performances, prompting the New York Times to speculate that it 'may
go down in theatrical history as Broadway's most monumental disaster'.
Rado and Ragni eventually reconciled 'thank goodness' and wrote
another musical together, Sun, before Ragni's death in 1991 at the
age of 48. 'Geri was just such a free spirit,' Rado says. 'He brought
so much of himself to Berger, and the character then fed him to be
even more himself.'
The new production of Hair, Rado says, brings everything full circle.
'There was a period when I couldn't bear to listen to the music from
the show any more. And there was a period when I couldn't listen to
any music written by anybody else. But that's changed now. This
production is so solid, and to see it done again in a way that Geri
would have loved… I've become whole again.'
Hair previews from April 1, and opens on April 14 at the Gielgud
Theatre, London (0844 482 5130; hairthemusical.co.uk)
VCDS' Hair is sometimes tangled, but mostly shines
Mar 15, 2010
There is a revolutionary musical that has come to define every
generation: in recent years, there's been Spring Awakening, the Gen
Xers have Rent, and for the baby-boomers, there is Hair. In Hair, the
year is 1968, it's the Age of Aquarius, and everything is oh so
groovy, baby. Set in Central Park, Hair follows a group of young
hippies "caught up in the politics and counter-culture of the
revolutionary zeitgeist." Written by James Rado and Jerome Ragni with
music by Galt McDermot, it was radical for its time for its
politically charged subject matter and X-rated depiction of youth in America.
I definitely felt groovy walking into Isabel Bader Theatre to see the
Victoria College Dramatic Society's production of Hair, which was
directed by Jackie McClelland. As I took my seat, the '60s tunes
playing ensured a psychedelic ambience as the actors dreamily
wandered around the stage.
The principal cast was generally strong, with some particular
stand-out performances. Alex Morrow, playing tribe leader Berger, was
perfectly suited to the role with his command of the stage and his
infectious enthusiasm. Tyler Whitaker's strong voice and dynamic
smile were also the right fit for the stud of the group, Claude, and
there was great chemistry between the leading men. It didn't carry
over, though, to the love triangle involving roommate Sheila (Emily
Johnson), who seemed to lack the authenticity that the role demanded.
Then again, who could forget the hilarious performance by Shak Haq,
donning a blonde wig and scandalous pantyhose as the American
anthropologist Margaret Mead?
This production had nearly 30 ensemble members, so some scenes were
messy and overcrowded, with Mariana Gurgis's intricate choreography
ultimately getting lost and detracting from the show. But it was in
the musically driven numbers that the cast truly excelled, assisted
beautifully by the band led by Tara Litvack. Songs like "Hashish,"
"Be-in," and the Act One finale, "Where Do I Go," enabled the
audience to enjoy the beautiful harmonies written by McDermott.
Arguably the most popular song of the show, and a personal favourite
of mine, is finale number, "Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)."
This song encapsulates the idea of being sent to fight in a war that
no one seems to understandwhether it is Vietnam in the '60s or
Afghanistan today. It is hard not to be moved by the passion this
song evokes, and though it could be a measure of my theatre
geekiness, I was forced to hide behind my notebook to avoid anyone
seeing the tears embarrassingly rolling down my cheeks.
It isn't possible to mention a production of Hair without taking note
of the dreaded nude scene, and each director who chooses to take on
this show must make a decision on how to handle it. To nude, or not
to nude, that is the question, and though McClelland chose the
former, it was executed with taste and subtlety. This is just one of
many ways the VCDS's Hair stayed true to the 1968 original. So,
although it was rough around the edges, it was ultimately a fun night
at the theatre.
Musical Theaterworks brings 'HAIR' to Veterans Auditorium
Mar. 18, 2010
By Donald Munro
Musical Theaterworks Fresno is the community theater arm of
Children's Musical Theaterworks, and for its spring production it
picked something that gets way beyond children's theater. "HAIR,"
with its story line of the turbulent 1960s and a "Tribe" of
peace-loving hippies, brings back the colors, sounds and ideas of an
earlier era. We caught up with director Heather Parish to talk about
the show. For more of the interview, go to
Question: Give us a brief rundown.
Answer: On the surface, "HAIR" is a string of songs and music
interludes expressing hippie-life. The life, culture, attitudes,
questions and beliefs of the counter-culture movement of the late
60s. The Tribe, as the ensemble cast is called, take a lot of
conventional ideas that society holds and flips them upside down,
inside-out, and backwards in order to shake up the status quo.
The musical was known on Broadway for being pretty daring. How wild
does this production get?
Finding the right balance of honoring the material and honoring our
community's values was one of great discussion among the production
team. I believe we have struck the right balance in this production,
but ultimately the audiences will let us know what they like and what
"HAIR," opens 7:30 p.m. today. Through March 27. Veterans Memorial
Auditorium, 2425 Fresno St. (559) 442-3140, musicaltheaterworks.org. $12-$20
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6373.
City Stage's 'Hair' to be a revealing production
By John Staton
December 29, 2009
Let's go ahead and get it out of the way. At the end of the first act
of the rock musical "Hair," which opens at City Stage on Wednesday,
the cast gets naked.
At least that's the plan.
"I'll tell you this, I had several (cast members) who expressed to me
in the beginning, 'I'm not sure about this,' " said William Day, a
former Wilmington resident now living in New York who's directing the
show. "As of right now, I think everybody's going to do it."
Day has performed in "Hair" three times, including once at City Stage
in 2003, when he played the lead role of Claude. "Up until the last
night of dress rehearsal, there were people who didn't know if they
wanted to (get naked)," he said. "But when push came to shove, it was
like, 'Yeah, man, this is what this is about.' "
The act-closing nude scene is only a tiny fraction of the action in
"Hair," which opened on Broadway in 1968 and is in the midst of a
Tony-Award-winning revival. At the same time, Day said, the nudity is
both symbolically important and not really what the scene is all about.
The song that ends the act is "Where Do I Go," sung by Claude, and
"that song is all about him being confused in life. It has nothing
really to do with nudity," Day said. "He's looking for an answer just
like everybody else. And at the same time he's looking for an answer,
The Tribe, they know who they are and they know what they're about.
That's why they take their clothes off, because the clothes represent
materialism, they represent insecurities, and they don't have 'em.
They get naked because they believe we should all (be) natural, that
we should all be proud of our bodies. They don't see their bodies and
sexuality as dirty things, they see them as gifts."
The famously loose plot of "Hair" centers on Claude (newcomer David
Lorek). His shifting sense of identity is revealed in the song
"Manchester" in which he declares, in a fake accent, that he's from
England before he gets called out on being from Queens.
Claude's dealings with Berger (Adam Poole), whose motives are more
pure and certain than Claude's, and love drama with Sheila (Morganna
Bridgers) provide conflict as Claude continues his search for
answers, and the hippies of The Tribe continue their quest to
disengage from mainstream society.
Claude's ultimate disconnect from The Tribe of hippies is at the crux
of the show, which, for all of its ample humor and light moments,
tackles some deep subjects including war, a topic that never seems
to disappear and features one of the most powerful endings of any
musical when a tragedy is set against the soaring, soulful, hopeful
but accepting song "Let The Sun Shine In."
The show's songs are among the most memorable and powerful in the
rock musical pantheon: the clever wordplay of "Sodomy" and
"Initials"; the beautiful melody of "Frank Mills"; the spine-tingling
harmonies of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In"; the delicate
"Good Morning Starshine"; the raucous title tune.
A band led by Chiaki Ito features a horn section and the guitar work
of jazz player Bob Russell, who said he's looking forward to tackling
what the script calls "improvised flying saucer music" that holds
sway between numbers.
City Stage's "Hair" also features the first local theatrical
appearance of popular Wilmington singer Bibis Ellison, who will be
rocking the show-opening tune "Aquarius." (For the record, Ellison
will split after the number's over because of previously scheduled
gigs and won't be sticking around for the clothing-optional activities.)
Day said he likes aspects of the current Broadway revival, "but I
didn't like that it was very pretty to look at. It just seemed a
little too Vegas-style. It was a little too polished for me. I wanted
to see a little more authenticity."
To that end, expect a few more "dirty hippies" wearing earth tones.
But while production choices may change, the play's themes remain.
"'Hair' has always been relevant," Day said. "It always has a
powerful message, whether it's done in New York City on Broadway or
in Leland in a cafetorium."
John Staton: 343-2343