Hair - The American Tribal Love Rock Musical

by Felice Prager
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Though rock music had been around for decades, it was just a matter of time that it would become an element in Broadway musicals.

Premiering on April 29, 1968, at the Biltmore Theater in New York City, the Broadway play, HAIR - The American Tribal Love Rock Musical, was the first in a stream of musicals which changed the framework of traditional musical theater. It had seen its earliest days in Greenwich Village at Joseph Papp's Off-Broadway Public Theater, in October of 1967.

Its Greenwich Village debut was just a few blocks from the area of New York depicted in the musical. The original production was directed by Tom O'Horgan, choreographed by Julie Arenal, and produced by Michael Butler. With the music and the book written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and lyrics written by Galt MacDermott, all of whom starred in the production, this musical showed almost every aspect of Sixties counterculture in a wide variety of musical styles, dance, and stage effects.

The musical addressed mind-altering drugs, pollution, the Vietnam War, civil rights, astronauts, astrology, hairstyles, Shakespeare, and sex. The show questioned the standards of morality, sexuality, individualism, racism, violence, drug use, loyalty, and social acceptance through the eyes of Berger, Claude, Sheila, Woof, Hud, and Crissy, the main characters in the weak storyline. Among the original cast, names like Diane Keaton, Melba Moore, and Shelley Plimpton are notable.

Hair became internationally famous for a brief, dimly lit scene at the end of the first act when the entire company assembled on stage in the nude. The nudity in the show was a first for a Broadway musical and highly controversial at the time. Parents would not allow their children to see the musical because of it.

The musical ran for 1742 performances on Broadway in its original rendition closing on July 1, 1972, and it has been seen across America and around the world in everything from community theaters to high school performances since that time. Despite the lack of a real plot and a weak storyline, the musical quickly became a smash hit.

Though the premise of the musical is highly dated now, the score and lyrics went beyond the theatrical, becoming pop standards performed by top recording artists - the Fifth Dimension, the Cowsills, and more. It is not unusual to be listening to the radio today when one of the songs will be played. When you hear songs like "Aquarius" "Easy to be Hard" "Where do I Go?", and "Good Morning Starshine, The Flesh Failures", it is easy to see, from their lyrics, why they were part of this musical and why they were, during those days, so popular. The authors even included Shakespeare's words ("What a Piece of Work is Man") as the lyrics to one song.

The play did become a movie several years after the musical's success, but the movie was received poorly and, as common with musical theater, it did not transfer well onto the big screen.

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