October 17, 2017

50 years ago today: The musical "Hair" opens at the Public Theater in NYC.

The off-Broadway run began on October 17, 1967.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a... product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s... The musical's profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of "rock musical", using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a "Be-In" finale.
Here's how the review looked in the NYT:
If good intentions were golden, 'Hair,' at Joseph Papp's new Florence Sutro Anspacher Theater, would be great. As it is it is merely pretty good; an honest attempt to jolt the American musical into the nine-sixties, and a musical that is trying to relate to something other than Sigmund Romberg.
Sigmund Romberg? The reference is lost on me. (Here.)
If it had a story — which to be honest it hasn't — that story would be about the young disenchanted, turned on by pot, switched off by the draft, living and loving, the new products of affluence, the dispossessed dropouts. That, if it had a story, would be what "Hair" is about.


Man, what an old fogey the NYT was! The reviewer was Clive Barnes.

I was 16 at the time, and I probably only heard about the show after it moved to Broadway. I scorned it, because it seemed that old people and commercial interests were trying to trade on the hippie movement, which seemed too pure and beautiful to have anything to do with Broadway. I didn't regard the music as rock music, so it was annoying to hear it called a "rock" musical. Like Clive Barnes, I resisted the show, but for what was — in "generation gap" terms — a completely different reason.

54 comments:

SDaly said...

Only song I really like from Hair is "Easy to be Hard". Perfectly captures the hypocrisy of the era.

Sacto_Dave said...

Exactly right. No plot. No reason for being. Definitely not rock. Rock was Hendrix, Joplin and Who. Beatles an d the Mamas and the Papas. I’m not sure where Hair fit in. I saw the touring show when it came to town but didn’ t get it. Not sure anyone did outside of east coast literati.

Temujin said...

'Hair' to 'Hamilton' is a long and winding road, but from the vantage point of 2017, fairly predictable.

rcocean said...

"Contemporary Youth depicted in Play"

Given that headline, who could resist?

robother said...

I remember hearing the Hair album and am pretty sure I said, "plastic, man."

William said...

I have a vague memory of seeing it. I think the selling point was that everybody got nude in the final scene. Naked bodies were very rare in that era. It was better than Oh Calcutta which also had naked bodies.......They should ask the original cast members about sexual harassment. Maybe the nudity wasn't a completely liberating experience.

mockturtle said...

Fifty years ago! Makes me feel old. Hell, I AM old! ;-D

rcocean said...

Negative Reviews in 60s:

Variety, on the other hand, called the show "loony" and "without a story, form, music, dancing, beauty or artistry.... It's impossible to tell whether [the cast has] talent. Maybe talent is irrelevant in this new kind of show business.

78-year-old W. A. Darlington of The Daily Telegraph wrote that he had "tried hard", but found the evening "a complete bore – noisy, ugly and quite desperately funny."[

mockturtle said...

Only song I really like from Hair is "Easy to be Hard". Perfectly captures the hypocrisy of the era.

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about being proud
How about I need a friend, I need a friend

rcocean said...

I think my older brother had the cast album. I listened to it and liked "Hair" - that was about it.

Wasn't Bob Denver the original Hippie in Dobie Gillis?

tcrosse said...

One of the members of the original Broadway cast was one Lynn Kellogg, who used to sing up a storm in Madison back in the mid-60s. I adored her from a galactic distance.

Bay Area Guy said...

"Manchester...,England, ......England.."

I had to listen to that damn soundtrack for years.

The 60s were a mixed bag. The music was good, the sex was easy, but politics and hygiene were pretty bad:)

YoungHegelian said...

I bought the soundtrack to Hair when I was a mere lad of 11.

The nuns were not pleased.

exiledonmainstreet said...

the Cowsills recorded the title track and it played on AM radio. That's how cutting edge "Hair" was.

YoungHegelian said...

@exile,

Girl! How could you forget that stirring rendition of "Age of Aquarius" by the Fifth Dimension?

Can't leave that out!

(Oh, & too many renditions of "Let the Sunshine In" that required many years of mortification of the flesh in a vain attempt to forget)

mockturtle said...

the Cowsills recorded the title track and it played on AM radio. That's how cutting edge "Hair" was.

Exiled, I thought it was Three Dog Night who recorded t.

mockturtle said...

It.

Jim Gust said...

Bob Denver played a beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. The beatniks were the precursors of the hippies. Not quite the same thing.

readering said...

Too young for the play but played the album over and over. Even liked the film when it came out, although I passed on the chance to dress like a hippie and go to the big scene in Central Park. A bunch of great songs. But when finally saw a touring production of revival in LA I was underwhelmed.

Big Mike said...

Hell, I AM old!

@mockturtle, I've had friends who've died young. Growing old is better.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, fifty years ago next week John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam.

Big Mike said...

Forty-five years ago last July "Hanoi Jane" Fonda earned her nickname.

Big Mike said...

Christmas Eve, forty-nine years ago I received my induction notice. I have no sympathy for millennial angst -- they weren't trying to get jobs with a 1-A draft classification.

Bay Area Guy said...

Shoot, my parents were authentic hippies. I lived that nonsense! They were New Yorkers, who went to Michigan for grad school, then drove a VW bus to San Francisco. No joke.

Far out, Man

mockturtle said...

Bay Area Guy reports: Shoot, my parents were authentic hippies.

Hey, I was an authentic hippie!

mockturtle said...

@mockturtle, I've had friends who've died young. Growing old is better.

I wasn't complaining. :-)

buwaya said...

Sigmund Romberg is unfairly forgotten.
Always loved "Student Prince".

mockturtle said...

Sigmund Romberg is unfairly forgotten.
Always loved "Student Prince".


Me, too, buwaya! While in high school I went to a performance of it and fell in love with the tenor lead.

David in Cal said...

I saw the original Hair on Broadway. As I recall, the big deal was supposed to be when the people on stage stripped nude. What a disappointment. They looked ordinary and not sexy.

eddie willers said...

Oliver got a hit with Good Morning Starshine.

"Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy la, la, la, lo, lo ".

Ralph L said...

Then it must have been Oh Calcutta! that opened with the nude cast walking to the stage on the tops of the seats, or was it revised for LA?

My Navy Cdr and Southern Lady parents brought home the album to their 8,10, and 12 y.o. kids. The music isn't bad for pop tunes.

buwaya said...

"Student Prince" is also unusual even for its day. Love does not conquer all, its not the Cinderella story it could have been. Everyone really does grow up and realize they have duties larger than themselves.

Mountain Maven said...

A reminder of how the 60's ruined America.

Mark Nielsen said...

Mockturtle (in the opinion of this mostly-lurker, one of the most interesting and perceptive of the regulars here) said: "Exiled, I thought it was Three Dog Night who recorded [Hair]."

Nope, definitely the Cowsills. Saw the Cowsills (or what remains of them) a year or so ago in an oldies concert -- it was great.

Ralph L said...

Wiki says it was the Cowsills, but Three Dog Night's Easy to be Hard went to #4.

Ralph L said...

Wiki: Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times: "What is so likable about Hair...? I think it is simply that it is so likable. So new, so fresh, and so unassuming, even in its pretensions."

Don't see that in Althouse's photocopy, but I didn't go to the link.

David said...

Seemed like exploitation to me at the time, but people can flock to be exploited.

whitney said...

I found that review interesting with him referring to it as "the new product of affluence". That's definitely what we see around the country with the activist in the colleges to the millionaires of the NFL. It's affluence that is rebelling

David said...

"'Hair' to 'Hamilton' is a long and winding road, but from the vantage point of 2017, fairly predictable."

The past tends to look predictable but it never was.

Paco Wové said...

"Shoot, my parents were authentic hippies."

Sorry to hear that, but no need to put you out of your misery!

ndspinelli said...

Saw a Broadway touring company production. I was given a free ticket. The only musical I ever really liked was West Side Story. Hair was OK, but I was glad I didn't pay to see it. This was in the early 70's.

Bay Area Guy said...

The problem of having authentic Hippie parents is there wasn't much, at first blush, to rebel against.

Smoking dope? "Far out, Man."

Staying out past curfew? "Heck, there is no curfew!"

Cutting class? "Stickin'' it to the Man!"

So, then you get your haircut, start working out, join the military, vote for Reagan - "Ohmygod, our son looks like a Republican!"

mockturtle said...

Buwaya asserts: Everyone really does grow up and realize they have duties larger than themselves.

I'd really like to think so but fear that is no longer the case. :-(

mockturtle said...

Mockturtle (in the opinion of this mostly-lurker, one of the most interesting and perceptive of the regulars here) said: "Exiled, I thought it was Three Dog Night who recorded [Hair]."

Nope, definitely the Cowsills. Saw the Cowsills (or what remains of them) a year or so ago in an oldies concert -- it was great.


I meant recorded Easy to be Hard.

Caligula said...

But Hair hasn't aged very well, has it?

Even something as dated as Guys and Dolls can be (more or less) adapted to the contemporary world, yet Hair not only didn't depict a new world aborning but has become (like posters for concerts at the Fillmore) little more than a period piece (or worse yet, a nostalgia piece).

"She asks me why, I'm just a hairy guy
I'm hairy noon and night, hair that's a fright
I'm hairy high and low, don't ask me why, Don't know
It's not for lack of bread, like the Grateful Dead"

Perhaps that was "shocking" to establishment Broadway in 1967, but today it seems mostly yawn-worthy.

mockturtle said...

Hair will never retain the classical status of Oklahoma!, The Music Man or West Side Story because the quality just isn't there.

mockturtle said...

And speaking of WSS, it was Stephen Sondheim's lyrics that made it great just as they did Sweeney Todd. What a genius!

Bruce Gee said...

The musical HAIR came to Madison; played on State Street. I was a senior in high school in an outlying town an hour’s hitchhike from Madison. I think I got the last ticket to the show. It was pretty boring as I recall. The nude scene at the end was actually hilarious: all of these actors huddling under a large American flag, squirming out of their clothing before slowly lifting it up to show: bare bodies!! The Age of Aquarium, my high school friends would call it.

Turned out so well, it did.

Leora said...

Hair was a rip off of the La Mama production of Viet Rock by Megan Terry which had better music. "Easy to Be Hard" was a good song but it was solidly Broadway pop - nothing rock and roll about it.

My Trotskyite parents lowned pretty much all the 60's musicals including Hair and among others West Side Story, Candide, Cabaret, Funny Girl, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, and Hello Dolly. I have affection for them all as teenage memories though Cabaret and Candide are the only ones on my playlist.

Leora said...

owned not iowned

EMyrt said...

The best thing about Hair is that it launched Donna Summers career.
Only 16, she won a part in the German roadshow cast and talked her parents into letting her go. She became a successful operetta performer at Volksoper, and then a session singer for Giorgio Moroder. The rest, if you appreciate disco, is history.

lee said...

The music was good musical theater music -- catchy, toe-tapping. The lyrics were mediocre. The book kids just plan bad. No story, no plot, no development, no character development. Nothing.

A few years ago, some high school where I used to live put it on. I thought that was inappropriate. High school?!

lee said...

"The book was just plain bad."

Not "kids."

Saw the film version in Israel with Hebrew subtitles. A lot of the kids in the audience really paid attention to the subtitles during "Sodomy."

EMyrt said...

Mockturtle
"Only song I really like from Hair is "Easy to be Hard". Perfectly captures the hypocrisy of the era."

First, you misremembered the lyrics (corrected below)

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd,
How about a needy friend? I need a friend

In context in the play I remember the song a bit differently. He's got a crush on her, she won't put out for him, he whines about it.
Many hippie guys thought free love meant all the women they had the hots for would put out. Unfortunately, that's a golden rule misfire. It's not that the women were not putting out because they were inhibited, but because they didn't want to fuck that particular guy. Lots of misunderstandings, and sometimes creepy pressure on the gals who didn't want to fuck everybody..