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In the eighteen months since it began as a low-budget, brilliantly off-beat show at New York City's off-Broadway Public Theater, Hair has developed a lion-sized mane. The folk-rock paean to hippiedom has, like Coca-Cola, become both a symbol of the exuberance of American youth, and an international industry of extraordinary financial success.
Hair companies around the world are grossing some $350,000 a week - a projection of $18 million annually. Right now, hair is firmly rooted in Los Angeles, New york, London, Paris, Dusseldorf, Belgrade, and Sydney. By next fall it will be playing Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and within the next twelve months Finland, Czechoslovakia, Israel, Italy, Spain, Canada, and Japan. Plans also call for touring companies here and abroad; a major one will work out of Copenhagen into Norway and Sweden.
"I think hair will go on for ten years." says Chicago millionaire Michael Butler, who brought the show uptown to Broadway for $240,000 ($90,000 of his own and the rest from investors). "We're planning to keep it right on going. Maybe it will be come a kind of permanent celebration." "The youth revolt is universal" says Tom O'Horgan, director of the Broadway, Los Angeles and London productions as well as the upcoming San Francisco and Chicago versions. To his predecessor, Public theater's gerald Freeman, who weaned the musical when it was just a bundle of energy and sheer vitality, "the hippies in Tokyo look exactly like the hippies in Rome and St. Mark's Place. And in every country you can find the immediate conditions that motivate unrest and disaffection with the Establishment."
In London 1,200 people fill Shaftsbury Theatre eight times a week for a look at the golden age of psychedelia. In PAris, which usually doesn't warm up to musical theater of any kind, the Hair box office has $80,000 in advance sales - twice that of any show in its history. And in hot, muggy Belgrade, where Marshal Tito saw and "liked" excerpts from "Kosa," the Atelje 212 production, the theater's cold-weather roof has been sealed tighter than a drum to prevent a deluge of youths from climbing the structure, peering in and, in their excitement, fall off.
Strip: On foreign soil "Hair" takes on the character of the cultural transplant that it is. The Paris version, for example, has been changed to include topical political humor. When a hippie distributes LSD sugar cubes, he says, "Here's one for Francois Mauriac, one for Tante Yvonne (the nickname or Charles de Gaulle's spouse) and one for Madame Pompidou"- and that brings down the house. In Belgrade, barbs aimed at Mao Tse-tung (sic) and at Yugoslavia's border nemesis, Albania, have made their way into the script. Nudity, too, and the responses to it, have been culturally tinted. His cast, says Paris producer-director Bertand Castelli, accepted it "almost religiously." More members strip for the dimly lit nude scene, he claims (almost the entire cast), than in any other foreign production.
Of course, nudity is no great innovation on the Paris stage. But in London, the nude scene on opening night inspired one man to continuously shout "rubbish" and a woman to leave the theater mumbling, "It's just obscene, that's all." As for the London cast, stripping has taken some getting used to. "When I first came to the show," says Jamaican Peter Straker, "I said to myself, 'Never, never.'" But as we got to know each other, it didn't seem too bad. Now I do it every night." In Munich, where the German production opened, the office of public order began censorship measures against "Haare" and the relented. And in Belgrade, most of the cast undress completely; however, the strip takes place under a huge linen sheet which is then raised to show the players motionless.
But these are small differences in a show that has sought, in each of its productions, effervescence, spontaneity and communal spirit. In London, where O'Horgan presided over casting, tryouts dragged on for months before he chose a group made up largely of unknowns and amateurs. Castelli, wo directed both the German and French productions, culled his casts the hard way. Of the 2,400 Paris hopefuls who answered newspaper ads, he picked 28. " 'Hair' is a group thing that requires total engagement," says Castelli, whose long locks rival those of his players and who's never without a strand of beads around his neck. "The problem was that they couldn't be spontaneous. I'd tell the French cast to do the scene in the style of Moliere, and the Germans to play in the style of Goethe. When the language was perfected we'd explore the absurdity of it and get down to the real thing."
Up Tight: "Kosa," the Communist world's first staging of "hair," is the favorite of the musical's authors and sometime actor, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, globetrotting from one production to the next. They found the Belgrade show "so beautiful, so spontaneous that we had to go right on the stage to share their enthusiasm." Said Medusa-haired Ragni , "There exist no middle-class prejudices here." Earlier in Munich, where according to producer Werner Schmid "most people don't even know what hippies are," Rado and Ragni were turned down by an up-tight hotel. Eventually they got a room in a hotel called-appropriately-the Vitalis.
Coupled with the large does of advance publicity, it is the music, Galt McDermot's amalgam of pounding rock and Broadway melody, that has propelled "Hair" into its wide pre-acceptance. There are already nine "Hair" LP's, and 60 groups have recorded songs from the show that are broadcast round the world. In fact, the music has caught on so well that Butler has decided to set up his own record company. And there are also film rights to be negotiated.
What will it all add up to financially? Butler won't even guess. But he notes that two of his original backers were offered eight times their investment, and turned it down. It would be safe to say that had Michael Butler not been born a millionaire he would be one today.
Copyright 1969 Newsweek. All rights reserved.