A common misconception about Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is it doesn’t have a plot. Granted, it doesn’t weave an epic tale like Les Misérables but Hair does tell a story. The musical is about a bunch of hippies trying to survive (i.e. avoid the draft) in the 1960s. One of them, Claude, has been drafted and must decide if he’s going to Vietnam and leaving his pacifistic principles behind or dodging the draft and betraying his parents.
Those with Hair tickets will be introduced to a bunch of great characters who sing a bunch of great songs. Hair has tons of energy (actors frequently dance in the aisle), nudity at the end of act one (Broadway actors are really fit), and the opportunity to dance on stage (after the finals bows, actors invite audience members to join them on the boards). When you see Hair make sure you’re on the main floor and not sitting in the balcony.
Hair’s lyrics and book were written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. They tried to capture the spirit and vitality of the hippies that they were meeting in the East Village. Rado and Ragni’s lyrics were to set to music by Grammy Award winner Galt MacDermot. While Rado and Ragni were bona fide hippies, MacDermot was not. Still, their partnership worked as MacDermot was terribly excited to write one of the first rock and roll musicals. The original Broadway cast recording went on to sell more than three million copies. The musical’s best known songs are “Hair,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).”
Interestingly, a show about hippies, dropping out, the sexual revolution, and taking drugs owes its existence to a Chicago businessman, and former special advisor to John F. Kennedy, Michael Butler. He produced the show when it debuted on Broadway in 1968 and used his family connections to secure the Biltmore Theatre. The show ran at the Biltmore for 1,750 performances.
Even though Hair is quintessentially “The Sixties,” it still resonates with today’s audiences. In fact, it won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The hair in Hair might be dated but the issues it confronts are pertinent to every generation: fitting in, making your own way in world, and figuring out just who you are.