Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical

The Broadway musical "Hair" has been described as "a celebration of life, a love letter to freedom, and a passionate cry for hope and change." I think that that is a great summary of just why this musical speaks to me. I've listened to the soundtrack over and over, and I would absolutely love to have the opportunity to see it-and be thrilled to have a chance to work on it.
Set in the turbulent times of the late 1960s, Hair centers on a group of young hippies in New York including Berger, the leader, Claude, Sheila, Crissy, and others. The group takes on the feel of a Native American tribe, and searches for a new way, a way to change their world. They question authority, question society, tune in to Eastern philosophy, and live by a philosophy of peace and love. At times, they are forced to fight for liberation and freedom, but are "reborn" after the struggle. In one scene, the group attends a Be-In (a gathering of hippies common in the 60s, featuring music, speeches, marijuana, psychedelics, and a sense of community) and the men burn their draft cards in protest of the war and in symbolic gesture supporting freedom and peace. Claude, however, pulls his card out of the flame, unsure of his feelings about his place and serving in the war. The musical also feature a drug-induced trip sequence that turns bad for Claude because of his fears of the hippie society, his fears of the establishment, and his impending service in the military. Eventually, Claude is called to service, and he has to face that he will not be able to enjoy the pleasures of the lifestyle he's been living once a part of the establishment. There is the image of Claude in uniform, lying on a black sheet, symbolic of him leaving for war. The show ends on a high note, sailing back into its predominantly joyous tone for the end, when the whole group sings the joys of the hippie lifestyle.
Hair introduced a new niche to the world of musical theatre- it was the FIRST rock musical. The score is full of the rocking beats and psychedelic tunes common to the music of the 1960s. This opened up a place in the realm of the theatre for rock music and future rock musicals. Hair was also a commentary of the social environment of the times. It celebrated the rebellious and free spirit of the young people during the era of change and brought insight into their philosophy.
Hair was written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Ragni and Rado. It opened off-Broadway on October 18, 1967 at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre, where it was directed by Tom O'Horgan. Interestingly, the play is set in October of 1967-it was very much a play of the times and for the times. After six weeks at Papp's, it moved to Cheetah's Discotheque, where it had to be performed with no intermission so the disco dancing could start at ten, and was seen by a long list of celebrities, including Barbara Streisand. After the Cheetah engagement, it was rewritten and restructured and thirteen songs were added, bringing the score to a total of thirty-three numbers. The show was largely recast, with 6 actors from off-Broadway making to to the Broadway production. It opened again on April 29, 1968 at the Baltimore Theatre, where it was hugely successful with audiences and critics and ran for 1750 performances. It was the 4th longest running musical on Broadway in the 1960s. There were at one time ten Hair companies on national tours. There was a brief revival on Broadway in 1977, but it ran for only one month. It has had much success in Australia, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France, Italy, Japan, and, since the Berlin Wall came down, has travelled for the first time to Poland, Lebanon, the Czech Republic, and Sarajevo, where ABC's Nightline discovered a very powerful production of the show amidst a great deal of war and suffering. Hair finally made it to South Africa with the demise of apartheid in the mid-1990s, where it opened to rave reviews and much acclaim. The show has never played in China, India, Vietnam, most African countries, and Antarctica & the Arctic. From these facts, we can see that, for the most part, where there is a spirit of freedom and liberation, this musical speaks to the people and connects with their desire for peace and love.

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