Twenty years ago last month, “HAIR” brought the Age of Aquarius to Broadway and the American musical theater was never quite the same.
The show, with its contemporary sound and freewheeling, almost non-existent book, ran for more than 1,700 performances, spawning countless touring and foreign companies as well as a successful movie. Now it is back in New York for one night only, this time in a unique concert version at the United Nations that will be a benefit for children with AIDS.
The concert to be held May 26, 1988 at the UN General Assembly Hall will reunite the musical’s creators – James Rado, Jerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot – as well as many performers who appeared in various companies of “HAIR” or the film version. The “Hair” alumni include Melba Moore, Paul Jabara, Heather MacRae, Treat Williams, Nell Carter, Andre DeShields and Donna Summer. Among other performers scheduled to appear are Bea Arthur, Frank Stallone, Jay Leno, Rex Smith and Chuck Mangione as well as a large cast of young, unknown singers.
“After 20 years, the anniversary came up and we said, “What are we going to do with it?” Ragni said the other day. “People told us to do a big reunion of “HAIR” kids and make it just a “HAIR” celebration. We didn’t want to do that. In a way, “HAIR” was always used as a rallying point.”
They found a rallying point in the plight of children with AIDS and the money raised from the concert - ticket prices are scaled from $250 to $5000 - will go to the United States Committee for UNICEF and the Creo Society’s Fund for Children with AIDS.
“HAIR” was the most influential of the rock musicals that hit Broadway and Off-Broadway during the late 1960’s and the early 70’s. More than any other rock musical, it integrated the pop music sound of the day into the Broadway musical.
Tim Rice, lyricist for such “HAIR”-inspired musicals as
“Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita,” calls it “one of the best Broadway
scores ever written.”
“HAIR” was also one of the most popular. It spawned four top four singles on the American pop record charts. Each was sung by a different artist. Incredibly, one song got to the number 1 spot, “Aquarius,” by the Fifth Dimension; another to number 2, “HAIR” by the Cowsills: a third to number 3, “Good Morning Starshine,” by Oliver; and fourth to number 4, “Easy to be Hard,” by Three Dog Night.
The musical first opened in New York Off-Broadway in October of 1967 at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater. The following April it was remounted, recast and redirected and moved to Broadway’s Biltmore Theater.
Rado and Ragni were in the cast. Rado played a young man named Claude who was about to be drafted and spends his remaining free hours with a tribe of first-spirited individuals on the outskirts of conventional society.
When the show is done today – it still has revivals around the country – it’s done as a period piece, Rado says.
“There is nothing from that era that really showed what went on with the hippie movement, what that time was about,” Ragni said. “It touched on the anti-war movement, racism, the ecology movement and a lot of other things. All this was going on at the same time.”
The title of the concert is “HAIR”…For the Next Generation,” and for the show, the trio has composed 18 new songs including several with such titles as “Plant Love,” “Ozone,” and “Sweet American” that sound like they will fit right into the show. Twelve of the new numbers will be used in the concert as well as most of the original songs.
“We thought, ‘What would “HAIR” be like now?’ So we wrote those kinds of songs,” said Ragni. “What’s the difference between now and then?”
The children of today are ready to embrace this show again, its creators say, and the concert may be the first step toward a new edition of the show that may play the West Coast and work its way east.
“There is such a revival of the ‘60’s going on right now, “Ragni said. “What was that era about? a lot of them are asking.”
“These kids are wondering what their parents were like or what the kids in those days were like,” said Rado. “This show still gives them a good idea.”
Copyright Associated Press.