Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical Debuted on Broadway 50 Years Ago: Watch Footage of the Cast Performing in 1968

As years go, 1968 is packed with notable events.

The Tet Offen­sive and the Apol­lo 8 mis­sion to the moon.

The assas­si­na­tions of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

The first 747 took to the skies. Star Trek showed television’s first inter­ra­cial kiss.

And Hair: The Amer­i­can Trib­al Love-Rock Musi­cal, which debuted down­town hard on the heels of the Sum­mer of Love, reopened on Broad­way.

New York Times crit­ic Clive Barnes—a fan—caved to pres­sure from anx­ious pre­view audi­ence mem­bers, who want­ed him to warn prospec­tive tick­et buy­ers what they were in for. Tongue firm­ly in cheek, he com­plied with­in the body of a rave review:

A great many four let­ter words such as “love”

A num­ber of men and women (I should have count­ed)… total­ly nude

Fre­quent approv­ing ref­er­ences… to the expand­ing ben­e­fits of drugs




Then, as now, a grow­ing youth move­ment occu­pied the Amer­i­can public’s imag­i­na­tion.

If 2018’s Broad­way pro­duc­ers are will­ing to take a risk on a musi­cal that’s not adapt­ed from a pop­u­lar movie, we may well be enter­ing tick­et lot­ter­ies for Gon­za­lez! some­time in the very near future.

Back then, young peo­ple were in revolt against the Viet­nam War and the val­ues their par­ents held dear.

The orig­i­nal ver­sions, both on and off Broad­way, fea­tured two of the show’s three authors, Gerome Rag­ni and James Rado, as anti­heroes Berg­er and Claude. (Galt Mac­Der­mot wrote the music.)

While oth­er cast mem­bers emerged from New York’s hip­pie scene, Rag­ni and Rado’s back­grounds were some­what lack­ing in patchouli. Rado was an aspi­rant com­pos­er of tra­di­tion­al Broad­way musi­cals. Rag­ni, as a mem­ber of The Open The­ater, was a bit more tuned in, the­atri­cal­ly speak­ing.

As Rado recalled in an inter­view:

There was so much excite­ment in the streets and the parks and the hip­pie areas, and we thought if we could trans­mit this excite­ment to the stage it would be won­der­ful. … We hung out with them and went to their Be-Ins (and) let our hair grow.

Barnes wry­ly not­ed in his review that “these hard-work­ing and tal­ent­ed actors are in real­i­ty about as hip­pie as May­or Lind­say.”

But there’s noth­ing too wig-like about the hair swing­ing around in the above footage—from the Gram­mys, The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour, and the 1969 Tony Awards where the cast was intro­duced by Har­ry Bela­fonte. There’s a spon­tane­ity sel­dom seen in big bud­get musi­cals these days, though with a nation­al tour hit­ting the road and dozens of 50th anniver­sary pro­duc­tions pop­ping up across the coun­try, we may be in for a redux.

To learn more about Hair’s role in the­ater history—including under­study Diane Keaton’s refusal to get naked and a page from the Times’ the­ater list­ings show­ing what else was play­ing at the time—read The Bow­ery Boys pho­to-packed 50th anniver­sary salute.

Sing along with the orig­i­nal Off-Broad­way cast below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Footage of the “Human Be-In,” the Land­mark Counter-Cul­ture Event Held in Gold­en Gate Park, 1967

89 Essen­tial Songs from The Sum­mer of Love: A 50th Anniver­sary Playlist

Fed­eri­co Felli­ni Intro­duces Him­self to Amer­i­ca in Exper­i­men­tal 1969 Doc­u­men­tary

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Wednes­day, May 16 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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