The Age of Aquarius may have become the Age of Activia, but Hair, the anti-war "tribal-rock musical," somehow stays young. The 44-year-old show opens Tuesday, September 20, for a two-week run at the Winspear Opera House.
This production is the latest Broadway incarnation of Hair, directed by Diane Paulus (she just directed the hit revival of Porgy & Bess that's going to Broadway this fall). Hair closed in New York earlier this month; Dallas is its first stop on a national tour.
All of the elements that made the hippie musical a phenomenon when it opened in 1967, first as the first non-Shakespeare at Joe Papp's Public Theater and then in 1968 on Broadway, are still in it. It's just that now we're not so shocked when actors doff all their clothes onstage (heck, Spring Awakening did that) or when they turn the air blue with words you weren't supposed to say, much less sing, in public 40 years ago (hello, Avenue Q).
Everything that was startling and new about Hair during its first incarnation we're pretty used to seeing and hearing today. So are the show's themes about peace, love and letting the sun shine in still relevant?
To find out, we went to the source, James Rado, who co-wrote Hair's book and lyrics with the late Gerome Ragni, starting in 1964. (The music, which produced a slew of pop hits, including "Hair" and "Let the Sun Shine In," is by Galt MacDermot.) We caught up with Rado, now 79, by phone. He was sitting in a park by the Hudson River on a sunny afternoon. Listen closely and you can hear birds chirping and planes flying over as we chat.
Did you like this most recent Broadway revival? James Rado: I was happy with it because it was what I wanted it to be. I worked for a number of years on a revision of the script. I knew certain things about it. I wanted to make it stronger, work on certain characters, especially the female characters. The storyline now is more apparent and there's more flow-through to the dramatic finale.
When they brought [director] Diane Paulus aboard, we had a couple of months when we prepped the script. That was stirring a lot of waters there. A lot of people had the school of thought that Hair is a big success, why mess with it? They thought I had to stick to the original script. But we pored over it and brought out exactly what I wanted to see happen. Gerry Ragni [who died in 1991] and I had begun the process together many years before. Right now I think it's in fine, glorious form.
How does this cast compare to the originals, who included a very young Diane Keaton? We have a very exciting person, Aleque Reed, playing one of the leading roles, the role of Jeanie. This person is someone to keep your eye on. She's absolutely fabulous. I'm truly excited. She's needed for the show right now. The show is at a tremendous level of performance. Two excellent guys are in the leads. You'll get them there. Steel Burkhardt as Berger and Paris Remillard is the guy playing Claude. Both tremendous.
Is the audience for Hair now mostly Boomers who grew up on this music or have younger generations come to it? Young audiences are being receptive to it. Huge crowds of kids were at the stage door on New York for autographs. They know the entire score. It does have resonance with young people. It's about freedom. It's about young people doing a contemporary kind of music. Don't forget, there's still a war going on. It does seem to reach young audiences and, of course, the older ones who saw it before or who never saw it and want to now.
When Hair first happened, it was an outgrowth of the counterculture of the 1960s. What's the counterculture today, the Tea Party? Well, I'm aware of things like Burning Man and music festivals and the whole dance world. There are still pockets of counterculture out there. You just have to look for it in places like Pacifica Radio stations, Al Jazeera news. People have to be aware of what's happening. In the media, it's a battle of manipulation for the mind.
Hair created a generation of "flower children" who influenced everything in art, fashion, entertainment for a decade. What do you think of pop culture now? I kind of don't. I gave up on television. Even radio upsets me so much. One thing after another. It builds up.
Your show has been done all over the world for the past 40 years. Do you have a favorite production? Paris was absolutely my favorite. They did Hair soon after they had a student revolution in 1968. People in the cast were of that group. They did it in an old theater from the 1800s with beautiful tiers, all made of wood. The cast took over the dressing rooms and painted all the walls. The passion was intense.
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You know, I interviewed you in 1988 for the 20th anniversary of Hair on Broadway. Where did the time go? When you're younger, you never think about what it's gonna be like when you get older. When you get old, you can't believe you're old. We should stay young. Let's grow young.
Talk to you in 20 years, OK? You got it.
Hair plays at the Winspear Opera House through October 2. Call 214-880-0202 for tickets.