Londoners Cool To Hair's Nudity
Four Letter Words Shock Few At Musical's Debut
by Anthony Lewis
The New York Times - September 29, 1968

London, Sept. 29 - The end of theater censorship in England was celebrated last night by the opening of Hair, the hippie musical.  It was an event.

An extravagantly dressed audience was aroused - mostly in sympathy, but a few in outrage - by the rock rhythms and iconoclastic message of the show.  At the end members of the audience joined in an impromptu dance on stage.

The critics were divided this morning, some bored, some bothered, some genuinely pleased.  Interestingly, the most favorable viewers were in the papers that speak to the cultural and civic establishment - The Times and The Financial Times.

Irving Wardle in The Times praised the musical's "vitality" and said "It's  honesty and passion give it the quality of a true theatrical celebration - the joyous sound of a group of people telling the world exactly what they feel."

B. A. Young in The Financial Times wrote that Hair was "not only a wildly enjoyable evening, but a thoroughly moral one."

Moral questions were raised about Hair before its opening because of it's free use of four-letter words, it's advocacy of uninhibited sex and the brief, dim emergence of several players from under a blanket totally nude.

The Lord Chamberlain, traditional stage censor, refused to license the play last summer.  But a bill just passed by parliament eliminated his licensing powers, and the London producers of Hair delayed the opening until the bill became law.

At the end of the show the cast waved the audience up to the stage, and several dozen took the cue.  They divided into two categories, as one observer put it - kids and show-offs.  The kids looked good.

Among the celebrities who joined in were the Duke of Bedford, Terence Stamp, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Baby Jane Holzer.  The youthful Earl of Lichfield stood in the middle of the orchestra taking photographs.  The dancing went on for about 15 minutes until the cast at last chanted "Good night, good night."

There were some Indian feathers, fringes, and beads in the audience, but also a good deal of Chelsea high style - velvet and ruffles on the men, crepe slacks without underwear for the women.

There must have been some squares too. From the back of the balcony repeated shouts of "Rubbish" sounded throughout the performance.

Hardly anyone seemed bothered by the nudity or the verbal obscenity.  The only critic who confessed to being shocked was Arthur Thirkell of the country's largest selling tabloid, The Daily Mirror, who said "the crudity appalled at times."

Herbert Kretzmer in The Daily Express, who was on the critical side, found the nude scene "totally innocent, naive in the best sense of the word."

Mr. Kretzmer said anyone expecting craftsmanship, professional performance and coherence from a musical would be in for "a crushing, shambling disappointment" from Hair.  But he added that it did "sometimes superbly sweep the audience into a kind of frenzy of noise, pleasure, and participation."

W. A. Darlington, The Daily Telegraph's 78-year old critic, wrote his final review before retiring after 48 years on the job. He said he had "tried hard," but found the evening "a complete bore - noisy, ugly and quite desperately funny."

Copyright The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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