The Israeli revival of “Hair” opens at the Tel Aviv Cinerama on July 6 with a cast of 24 bright young hopefuls. The radio programs have been playing the songs for weeks: “Good Morning Starshine”, “I’ve Got Life” “Manchester, England, England” and of course “Let The Sunshine In”.
“Hair”, by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt McDermott, was the first rock musical, and it changed musicals forever. The 1991 production is directed by Zedi Zarfati who acted in the first “Hair” (1970). It uses the 1970 translation by Ehud Manor, the first translation he ever did. And thereby hangs a tale. Anybody over 40 will remember 1968 as the year “Hair” premiered, but that excitement had a somber backdrop. It was the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther-King were assassinated. The inner cities and the universities were exploding. More and more young men were being drafted to Vietnam, and in Israel, Manor’s 19 year-old brother Yehuda was killed at Suez during the War of Attrition.
Israeli poet Hilit Yeshurun heard, “To My Young Brother, Yehuda”, the haunting ballad Manor wrote to his brother’s memory. “She knew the people connected with “Hair”,” he tells, “and told them that I was the one to do the translation.”
In brief he got the job and did the translation. He loved the hard-hitting songs which were so different “from the poetic images that by the end of the Sixties were out of touch with reality. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan paved the way for Rado and Ragni. The songs I wrote after “Hair” were very different from my previous ones.”
After the show premiered the critics’ glowing reviews of his translation brought other offers rolling in, straight plays as well as musicals, his most recent being “Mirandolina” for the Beesheva Theater.
“So much so that in 1975 I decided that it was time I formally studied theater.” He got his BA from Tel Aviv University and then went on to Cambridge on a scholarship from the British Council where he got an MA in English Literature.
“Hair” really changed my life,” Manor says, but his voice is wistful, as though for all of us. We were so hopeful then, so sure that we could change things for the better that we really could stop up rifle barrels with flowers. “Hair” epitomized that passion to break with the past, to bust free of restrictions, to end wars, to kick sacred cows, to taste smell, absorb, touch, experience everything that every body ever said “no you can’t” too.
I don’t think that “Hair’s” strength derives from the author’s shamelessness, in the best sense of the work, who dared to say to people celebrate yourselves, “says Manor. The celebration included the advocation of drugs and unrestrained sex, themes that have lost appeal in the age of AIDS and the ghastly trinity of cocaine, heroin and crack.
Manor concedes the change but makes the point that “we haven’t updated the musical. Who have specifically and pointedly left it in the Sixties with all of the Sixties’ references like the Vietnam draft that Claude (Ilan Leibowitz) fights against”.
Claude is the leader of the “tribe” which, true to the spirit of “Hair”, doesn’t have big-name stars. It includes Eyal Buchbut as the charismatic Berger, Hagit Goldberg as the fiery Sheila, the very talented Enosh as Hud and Adi Ben-Tov as the wistful and pregnant Jeannie. I can’t wait.
Copyright The Jerusalem Post.