The Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theater on Record.

HAIR is a difficult piece to deal with.  It is less a show, much less a recording and more a phenomenon than anything else. An eclectic collection of characters, chunks of dialogue, musical fragments and a group of songs strung together on a spider’s web of a story, it is simply a hotchpotch declaration or celebration of the preoccupations of the ‘make love not war’ generation of the American 1960’s.  That it should have had the enormous success it did on its first showing in America (helped considerably by some unaccustomed nudity) is one thing; that it should have survived through repeated showings around the world over the next twenty years, whether as a period piece or not, is another, and one which earns it a place alongside the other major Broadway shows of the 1960’s.

Given the nature of the score, what I find even more surprising is the huge number of cast recordings that have been made world-wide.  Many of the long list of pieces itemized on the sleeves of these record are little more than fragments, ranging from tiresome catalogues of ‘naughty’ words, whether on drugs or race, to atmospheric bits which seem to me to mean little or nothing our of context. The principal songs – in the generally accepted meaning of the word – which come along at intervals include the winsome  ‘Aquarius’ (which became the hymn of “HAIR’s” people), but then there are more substantial pieces such as the plaintive ‘Easy to be Hard’, the jolly ‘White Boys/Black Boys’ sequence and, my own favourite, the unrhymed ‘Frank Mills’, a sympathetic tale of unfortunate love which is rather like a modern version of the Joyce Grenfell Hampton Court maze sketch.

‘HAIR’ has always been a very mobile entertainment.  Its original Off-Broadway version, which was recorded, included all the principal numbers, but the show was heavily revamped for presentation on Broadway and a considerable list of musical bits and pieces was added, including the finale ‘Let the Sunshine In’, and the resultant new version with it’s uptown cast, re-recorded.

This second disc, which includes almost all the material which was used in the Broadway production, can fairly be considered to be the standard ‘HAIR’, if such a thing exists.  Its cast members including authors Gerome Ragni and James Rado (and rather less of Diane Keaton and Melba Moore), enter into the spirit of the piece with alternate vigor and fashionable languorousness, and Lynn Kellogg and Shelley Plimpton take their chances in the biggest numbers with power and delicacy respectively.

Later, in the run, members of the cast took part in a further recording under the title “DisinHAIRited”, which included most of the other material written for the two versions of the show and either cut or not recorded on the Broadway disc.  This process was also followed in London, where the principal cast album (with Paul Nicholas, Oliver Tobias, Peter Straker and Annabel Leventon) was supplemented by “Fresh Hair” (where Elaine Paige joins the company), both discs containing a little less material than their American equivalents.

The film soundtrack, which stretches it’s material over two records, contains basically the same selection as the Broadway cast album. John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo and Treat Williams star in a recording which, coming more than ten years after the original stage production, manages to maintain much of the feeling of the piece, even if the technical skills in evidence make it all sound a bit sanitized.

On the other discs, the selection varies, with various pieces of the score floating in and out of what was an equally unstable book. Australia contributes one more English-language, HAIR, but otherwise there is a choice between versions for Finland, Brazil (in Portuguese), France, Israel, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Japan and German versions, including one in which the cast includes Donna Summer (nee Gaines ) and one double disc set with dialogue (Das ganze HAIR.)

Copyright Blackwell Company.

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