That Play Is Sprouting Everywhere
by Tom Prideaux
Life Magazine - April 17, 1970

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As the show's official astrologer, pert and pretty little Maria Crummere was certain that the new Boston company of Hair has trouble ahead.  She told me about it last month in her fashionably located New York apartment well before the Boston opening.  "Jupiter will be in opposition to naughty Saturn, and the show opens the very day of the sun's eclipse. Terrible."

I asked her why Hair's producer, Michael Butler, who hires Maria to keep Hair in harmony with the planets, would risk that Boston opening at such a perilous time.  Well, there was simply no safe time in the near future.  But Maria did feel that Hair would get help from Mars and the new moon.

Aided by whatever merging of forces, zodiacal or earthly, hair has it's second Broadway birthday this month, and in the process has become a worldwide American export.  Statistics are not the important point, but they are amazing.  Hair has played in 14 countries, from japan to Holland, six troupes are doing it now in the U.S., and it has been seen by 3.5 million people, with no end in sight.  Other shows (Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady) have had wider distribution.  But Hair has gone farther faster than any other show in history.

The point about Hair is that it is a new kind of entertainment, a sort of do-it-yourself youth ritual, complete with altar, and urn of sacred fire, and a large selection of rock hymns and litanies that can be used and modified to suit the needs of local religioners.

Hair owes a fair portion of its fame to its brief nude tableau, which most viewers, when they finally see it, find almost disappointingly tame and inoffensive.  But though the nudity gave the show a useful blast of publicity, it is by no means the basic cause of Hair's triumph.

The essential merit of Hair was established in it's pre-nude period when it was produced off-Broadway in 1967 by Joseph Papp.  For the first time, the authentic voice of tabboo-busting, war-hating hippie youth rang out in a show.  Hair had it all, from the callow faith in four-letter words to a genuine, euphoric love of life.

After it's off-Broadway debut, hair was Broadwayized (and undressed), along with a half dozen new songs and Tom O'Horgan's brilliant restaging.  So began it's global phase as a mouthpiece for rebellious youth.

hair has no fixed text.  It's official printed version, though it recently topped a Chicago best-seller list, is not what you see and hear on any stage.  The script is treated as a framework.   Certain scenes and songs remain substantially the same in every version, but there is always room for embellishments and changes.  In Yugoslavia, for example, the important draft-card burning scene was omitted because radical young Yugoslavs actually hope to be drafted into the army - to fight someday for their independence from Russia.

Most foreign Hair shows are coached by Americans who have worked closely with the parent production, and can transmit its youthful defiance and energy.  But each troupe is urged to add it's own style; Hair won't really work unless it really expresses the people who are doing it.  When the U.S. dance director, Julie Arenal, discovered that her Stockholm cast had no empathy for the nervous, jumpy American way of dancing, she encouraged them to use their own smoother, more sensual dance movements.  For all of Sweden's sexual freedom, the girls there were surprisingly reluctant to strip for the nude tableau.  The Australians, on the other hand, taking the scene as a symbol of their youthful escape from stifling conformity, peeled with zeal.  Contrary to rumor, nobody is asked to strip at Hair auditions, and need not do so in the show if they object.  When I saw the excellent Toronto Hair, three girls in the cast had not elected to appear nude.

Unlike most shows, hair depends less on individual talents than on a strong carefully nursed sense of teamwork.  "Since we can't always find great performers" Executive producer Bertrand Castelli told me, "we have to compensate with group spirit. That's our big thing."  Most Hair actors, whether in Chicago or Belgrade, are recruited locally - often via radio or newspaper ads - and are picked in open auditions.  In some city high-schools, as in Toronto, the cream of the student body tried out.

To mold this green raw material in a few weeks into an effective troupe requires, above all, that each member feel at ease with his fellows. During the show, most of the actors hang around onstage, in full view of the audience - even when not performing.  It makes the show seem like a party - with friends jumping up to do their own stunts.  The confidence they feel together helps them win the audience, and the rough-and-tumble - and sometimes gamy - horse play that goes on in the show also helps break down their shyness.  Everybody in Hair soon picks up all the songs and lines, so that swapping of roles is often permitted.  In some ways, being in Hair serves as group therapy.

The mood of the show varies widely in different countries.  The New York cast is tense and ambitious, knowing that talent scouts may be in the audience, ready to seduce them with cushier jobs.  The Toronto bunch is more robust and carefree.  The Londoners are crisp and lively, and not so turned on by the show's idealism.  The Japanese flock, recently busted for possessing marijuana, displayed the most poetic emotions, especially when rhapsodizing about the moon, the sun and starshine.  The Las Vegas group is the unhappiest; audiences too cold and money-minded.

The most universally enjoyed element in Hair is Galt MacDermot's music with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the pair who spawned the whole show.  Their rock-style lingo translates well into other languages, though I always laugh at "Aquarius", sung on the German cast album under the accurate title "Wassermann".

By policy, the staff tends to be paternalistic, providing doctors and legal aide when needed, and helping youngsters find places to live.  At a recent New York meeting, a young actor, Oatis Stephens, who now plays the major role of Berger, was called in to tell why he had quit the show a few months ago - he had gone west and briefly joined the San Francisco Hair.  He explained that he had just suddenly felt uptight and needed a change, promised that he wouldn't bolt the show again, and went on to say how wonderful it was to be back with his home tribe.  "Hair is a way of life" he said with unmistakably messianic fervor, "and we must lay it on the line for others to see."

A moment I will never forget occurred in Toronto when a white girl with long, silky blonde tresses knelt and bent forward to shine the shoes of a Negro girl with her hair.  The white girl performed this symbolic act with such unconscious grace and sweetness that one was inescapably reminded of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.  And in the Los Angeles Hair another moving moment happened when a Negro performer, after finishing a nifty little dance, was given a quick pat on his shoulder by a white actor.  At this casual pat of approval, the audience burst into applause.  Such moments are largely accidental, depending on the mood of actors and audience.  But for me, they have justified a lot of Hair-watching.

The implications of hair are being felt in unexpected quarters.  At Fordham University in The Bronx I talked with a young jesuit priest, father P.J. McGuire, who has seen the show four times, usually taking informal groups of students with him.  "It is really a very spiritual play," he began.  "The tribe is reacting against all the life-destroying things that are encroaching upon it.  Yes, they bring in astrology and drugs, but these are all different ways of looking for the spiritual in life."  He objected to certain "tasteless elements" that sometimes burst into the show (mock masturbation), but he defended the nude scene, comparing the figures to classic statues.  "Nothing pornographic about it."

Not all Catholic authorities, however, share Father McGuire's tolerance for Hair.  Confirming the astrological forebodings of Maria Crummere, Boston district attorney, Garrett H. Byrne, began to make trouble for the show during the very week of the sun's eclipse.  It was the most serious threat of censorship Hair has ever met except in Mexico, where it was closed summarily after one night.

After seeing a preview, the Boston D.A. decided the nude scene was so lewd that the show must not be permitted to open.  Fast work by the counsel for Hair, which had already taken in $700,000 in advance ticket sales, resulted in the D.A. agreeing to a moratorium until the seven judges of the Massachusetts Supreme Court could see the play "individually and at their convenience".  Guided by their reports, a final ruling will be issued.  Meanwhile, the Boston hair is going strong - under the influence of Venus.

Copyright Time, Inc.

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