Credits: Music by Galt McDermot. Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
Summary: Set during the turbulent protests of the 1960s, Hair follows a “tribe” of young, politically active hippies living in New York City, whose search for love and sexual freedom is threatened when one of their group is drafted into the Vietnam War.
Broadway: Opened on Broadway in 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances between 1968 and 1972.
Revivals/Tours: Hair has spawned numerous productions around the world, and there have been two major Broadway revivals to date (1977 and 2009).
Movie: A movie version of Hair was released in 1979, directed by Milos Forman.
Awards: Nominated for two Tonys in 1969, including Best Musical (it lost to 1776). The 2009 Revival was nominated for eight Tonys and won Best Revival of a Musical.
Rating: PG-13/R (for language, nudity, drug use)
Why This Musical: Hair is probably one of the most ground-breaking shows in musical theatre history. Created at a time when 1960s America was divided over the Vietnam War, it channeled the spirit of the hippie generation—a generation that refused to conform to the notion they should be drafted to fight in a war overseas. The original production stemmed from an experimental work that was created as a Vietnam protest show. When the show opened on Broadway, it marked one of the first times that a mainstream theatre production was so racially integrated. The inclusion of on-stage nudity, profanity, drug-taking, homosexuality, and disrespect for the American flag led to angry protests from the public. Conservative theatre-goers were shocked and upset by the production, and veteran Broadway composers such as Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers were highly critical of the score. However, many critics praised the show for being fresh, young, and defiant. Since then, Hair has been widely acknowledged as a classic, and is performed all over the world. Interestingly enough, the plot and structure of the stage show are fluid and often change, depending on the individual production. When the movie version was released, it differed quite a bit from the show, in that it had a more straightforward plot and the main characters were given more backstory.
My Connection: My connection with this musical goes all the way back, to the 1980s, when my mother brought home a record from Goodwill that contained the greatest hits from Jesus, Christ Superstar on one side and Hair on the other. I fell in love with both musicals, and bought the full cast recordings of each, in order to hear all the songs. I own the movie version of Hair on DVD, and I’ve seen it quite a few times, but I didn’t have a chance to see the musical live until 2011, when a national tour came to Milwaukee. Having grown accustomed to the movie version, I was surprised at how different the stage show was, and how little actual plot it contained. However, even if the show was confusing at times, this didn’t detract from the great performances, the fantastic score, or the powerful ending. As promised, there was full nudity on-stage during the song “Be-In,” but it was partly obscured by fog machine which covered the stage in a smoky haze.
Where to See It: The movie is available on DVD (I found it listed at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble). The show is often performed by professional and amateur theatre groups, so it’s not hard to find a local production. Milwaukee has hosted two different productions (Skylight Music Theatre and Broadway in Milwaukee) in the last five years.
“The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)”
Final Thoughts: The movie version of Hair is a lot of fun, with great music, but try to see the stage show if you have the chance, as it’s a very different experience from the movie.