Hair is growing back on Broadway
The classic anti-war hippie musical of the 1960s, Hair, won’t stop growing! After a Central Park revival scored three years ago, it moved to Broadway and won a Tony award, and now it’s back there again in the same production, but with some new cast members and fresh energy.
I just called the show’s legendary cowriter, James Rado, to untangle exactly what’s going on here and throw some conditioner on it.
Me: Hi, James. Is the show’s anti-war message still relevant?
Rado: Very intensely. People want to think about other things in our mutli-faceted culture that offers so many distractions, but this thing of war still hangs over us. It plays to that part of our consciousness.
Me: Do young people who’ve never heard of hippies come to the show?
Rado: At one point in the early ‘90s, people told me there was much interest in Hair in colleges. I don’t know about today, but I assume it’s still interesting because it was history being made by young people. They were active and on the streets and a bunch of them were dropping LSD and smoking pot and growing their hair long and wearing funny but lovely looking clothes. When kids see it today—and a lot do—they can identify on that level.
Me: Do you ever long for the old days when there was more of a counter-culture, before bohemia got subsumed into the mainstream?
Rado: I don’t think so. I’m very much a person of the present. I like looking back because something big happened in my life back then, but I like being very much planted in the now. And that’s the philosophy of the show anyway–the now.
Me: Did you have a lot of input into this production?
Rado: A great deal. I did a rewrite, deepening some of the characters and strengthening the storyline. I wanted to make it very much more clear for a modern day audience. I figured there’d be people who knew nothing about the era and people who lived through it. Even those who lived through it, there were things that could be improved. Gerry (Ragni, cowriter) felt the same way. We started this process before he passed.
Me: What else is different now?
Rado: Back then, we were scraping people off the street to do Hair. If they had long hair, they won half the battle. This time, we’re using people who are trained and wonderful, the cream of the crop of young actors, and they’re identifying and loving being in it. It’s a romp.
Me: But with outrageous stuff like The Book of Mormon on Broadway, does Hair still have the power to shock?
Rado: I think it‘s shocking—that it’s still alive and so vibrant!