Hair Has New Yorkers Flipping Their Wigs:
Rock Musical is Broadway's Hottest Ticket
Hair, the American tribal love-rock musical, has exploded on Broadway, and Broadway is not likely ever to be the same again. Everyone associated with hair is ecstatically happy, for Hair is the hottest ticket on Broadway, selling out to the legal limit of standees at every performance, with a $250,000 advance sales. Less than ecstatic, presumably, are the several conservative theatre landlords who declines Hair as a tenent. Not recommended to them as a nerve tonic is the sight of those long lines of cash-in-hand customers queing up at the Biltmore theatre. That's where Hair found a home and where the "Vacancy" sign has been retired for the next two or three years.
As beautiful as it is to see young people reveling in the complete theatrical experience that is Hair, a show at last that they can identify with, it is exhilarating to discover the total acceptance of hair by their elders. Everything about hair is refreshingly free, uninhibited, honest and unabashedly frank. That adults are responding to Hair so fervently seems to indicate that they, like the kids, want entertainment that tells it like it is.
Such a conservative, definitely un-hippie type as NBC's Leonard Probst. hailed Hair as "the only new concept in musicals on Broadway in years and more fun than any other this season." The New York Times' Clive Barnes, a critic not guilty of crusading for revivals of "The Student Prince" and "Apple Blossoms", but hardly a youngster, wrote that Hair is "so likeable, so new, so fresh and so unassuming". Even newspapers with such disparate audiences as The Wall Street Journal and The Village Voice lift their voices together (to a rock beat, of course), in praise of hair. Wall Street's John J. O'onnor said that "Hair stands Broadway on its marcelled toupee", and the Village's Michael Smith said that "something downtown, dirty, ballsy and outrageous has hit Broadway at last, and it's a smash, and hopefully Broadway will never be the same."
The producer of Hair is Michael Butler, whose courage did not stop merely with the announcement that he would come to Broadway for the first time with something that he truly believed in. Unlike those producers who during the tryouts castrate the shows they option to make them more "acceptable", Butler just said "go" to his very creative creators. hair authors Gerome Ragni and James Rado, composer Galt MacDermot and director Tom O'Horgan will tell you, still stunned in disbelief, that it was on Broadway - good, gray, establishment Broadway - that they got the go-ahead to ignite hair exactly the way they wanted to.
The short, lively history of hair is something of a phenomenon by itself. It was born at Joseph Papp's off Broadway Public Theater in October, 1967, the first production in this playhouse that formerly was the Astor Library. There it thrived in a limited engagement. To make way for the next scheduled attraction, Hair moved out of the Public and, inder Butler's auspices, was transferred to Cheetah in January. The show was financially successful in its discoteque setting, but Butler envisioned a greatly expanded, dramatically elaborate, and even more artistically rewarding Hair in a Broadway presentation.
No one associated with the Hair production needed to wait for the opening night reviews to know that a smash-hit was all set to shake up a lethargic Broadway. For three weeks, preview audiences at the Biltmore went ape for this wild, unleashed musical that broke all the rules. They went out and told their friends about this wonderful "happening" that is Hair and the excitment kept building and building all through those previews.
An almost entirely new cast has been assembled for the Broadway Hair, seven or eight new songs, a new book that kept pace with all the incredible events that had happened in six months, and new staging that ran the gamut from actors swinging on ropes over the audience and dancing in the mezzanine top riding a motorcycle up the aisle. A few days before the premiere, it was decided that more rehearsal time was needed to tighten up all the new things that were happening to the new Hair. The courageous Mr. Butler to the rescue again: it takes an awful lot of courage to gave back money. The producer cancelled three sold-out previews to give O'Horgan and company the added rehearsal time needed.
Hair has been called "a musical be-in", unrestricted as it is by all the conventions of BRoadway musicals. It is not a "book" show, in the conventional sense. It is a loving, living, realistic look at today's flower children, with bells, beads, incense, flowers, costumes, dreams, freaking out and turning one another on with love and a whole new set of values. And it is set to joyful rock music, with lyrics that shout "I Got Life" and "I Believe In Love" and sing the praises of "Hair" and "White Boys" and "Black Boys" and "What A Piece Of Work Is Man" and "The Bed". Both hedonistic and spiritual values are praised in the songs sung by the twenty-three beautiful people in Hair. In "Walking In Space", there is a repetative line, "my body...my body...my body...my body". This is not only where it's at, but where it's always been. It took Hair to tell it with love, rather than a leer.
Copyright Natoma Productions.