Hair - Trusting the Kids and the Stars
by Colette Dowling
Playbill Magazine - May 1971

Three years ago before Hair opened on Broadway to enthusiastic audiences and splendid reviews, there were plenty of people with the show who were concerned about the chances of such a controversial venture.  One exception was Maria Elise Crummere, Hair's y Astrologer.  Maria had already calculated by means of a complicated astrological chart that they show's success was in the stars (that is, as long as the opening date was April 29th - a date which producer Michael Butler allowed her to choose).  The 29th was auspicious, according to Maria, because the moon was high, indicating that people would attend in masses.  The position of the "history makers" (Pluto, Uranus, Jupiter) in the 10th house made the show unique, powerful and a money-maker.  And the fact that Neptune was on the ascendancy foretold that Hair would develop a reputation involving sex....As it turned out Maria's chart was right on all counts, so she was entrusted with choosing the opening dates for subsequent productions of Hair in other cities and countries.  Only once was her advice shunned.  That was in Acapulco, where the authorities closed Hair down after a single performance.

This April, Hair celebrated it's third birthday on Broadway.  Since the days of it's pre-Broadway infancy (the show started out in Joseph Papp's Public Theater, you'll recall, and surprised everyone by succeeding staggeringly when Michael Butler brought it to Broadway), Hair has spawned dozens of companies, both here and abroad, and over a thousand recordings.  The show's net profit for the year ending in January was close to three million dollars.

For a musical that gets a lot of it's pow from topical humor, it's remarkable that its popularity hasn't begun to wane.  As Michael Butler puts it, "If this were a more perfect world, Hair would have dated itself two years ago."  Instead, if you'll pardon the pun, hair keeps right on growing - in America and all over the world.  So far, twelve million people have been to Hair.  They've seen it in twenty-five countries (including East Germany) and heard it in every language with the one possible exception of Chinese.  "We're now three years old" an investor said to me recently, "and there's no end in sight."

The things that have happened to Hair along the road to success have an epochal quality all their own.  For one thing, not everyone embraces Hair with the unqualified enthusiasm of an urban teenybopper.  Reactions to the show - on both personal and municipal levels - have been various and, in some cases, quite unpredictable.

The following log of Hair experiences, culled from dozens of adventures Hair companies have had around the globe, will begin to give the reader an inkling, I think, of just why it is Hair lives.


This spring in the nation's capital, the opening of Hair was picketed by such diverse elements of the citizenry as the Smite Smut League and the Gay Liberation Front.  One amply bosomed lady carrying a smite smut poster was horrified to find herself in the wrong camp, if one will, at just the moment a news photographers chose to snap her picture.

Notables from Washington's political and social circles crossed the picket lines in full feather to see the musical , whose strongly anti-Government lines had had already been applauded half way around the world.  And they, too, applauded.  "Even Kissinger seemed to enjoy himself," one first nighter observed.  And at the opening night party that elegantly incisive lady in her seventies, India Edwards was heard to remark to two of her contemporaries, Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eugenia Sheppard, "The three of us must have been the oldest people in the audience tonight, and isn't it marvelous how we grooved on the show.  It's only the middle-aged squares who can't get into it."


Munich had a bone to pick.  The city fathers objected to the nude scene.  "In Germany," they huffily informed Bertrand Castelli, producer of the Munich show, "we just don't go around with our clothes off."  In a comeback that can only be considered classic, Castelli informed the city fathers that he'd had personal friends who'd been marched to the German gas chambers with their clothes off.

At the theater, the following night, the famous nude scene was blocked from the audience by an enormous banner that covered the entire proscenium.  On the banner were printed the names of every concentration camp germany had established during the second world war.  The next day, the city fathers announced a sudden change of heart.  Hair would be permitted to reinstate it's nude scene.


Back on the home front, reactions to Hair continue to astound.  Concerned citizens of St. Paul mounted an unsuccessful obscenity campaign against Hair, in an attempt to get it banned before it opened.  On opening night a frustrated, octogenarian clergyman released eighteen mice into the lobby, in the hope, presumably, that the audience would be frightened out of the theatre and into the street.  No one noticed.  Saddened, the clergyman left the theatre.  His exit line?  "I've been staging protests against obscenity for the last forty years and none of them has ever worked."


Copenhagen had a different problem.  In Denmark, nudity is practically de rigeur and the cast felt the highly publicized nude scene wouldn't have the same impact it had in other, less liberated countries.  So the kids decided to do that particular scene clothed, and to take off their clothes during other, less predictable moments.  Some even went nude during the opening sequence, when the actors come down the aisles of the theatre, mixing and mingling with the audience en route to the stage.  the audience accepted it all with utter sang-froid.  None of the Danish reviews even mentioned nudity.  (Note: the translator for the Danish script was a priest.)


When hair opened in Boston, the D.A. promptly tried to close it on an obscenity charge.  Hair's production office fought back by seeking a preventative injunction.  What ensued was a series of legal ploys and counterploys that led right up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Here, the defenders of public morality lost out, for a tie vote sustained the Court of Appeals' decision and Hair was allowed to go back on the boards - after being closed for eight weeks!  During that time the cast and staff remained on full salary.  These expenses plus the cost of legal fees through the production budget completely out of whack, as you can imagine.  "Even with advance ticket sales of a million dollars," one investor told me, proudly, "we lost money in Boston.  But we upheld a principle."


In Acapulco, the legal proceedings were simpler, if cruder.  After one performance, in a theatre that happened to be located across the street from the town's most popular bordello, the authorities moved in with the charge that Hair was "detrimental to the morals of youth."  As the kids in the cast filed out the stage door that night, they waved back at the girls hanging from the windows of the resort town's famous establishment.  At seven the following morning, the kids were hauled off to jail, where each was handed a piece of paper with this warning: Be out of the country within 24 hours or stay and face charges.  Hair left the the country.


Captains Lovell and Swigert, of the Apollo 13 mission, attended Hair in new York and walked out at intermission, telling the press they objected to the way the flag was handled. Mrs. Michael Gifford of Gifford/Wallace, Hair's publicity firm, happened to be in the theatre that night and followed the astronauts out into the street.  "Did you even listen to the lyrics?" she demanded of Captain Swigert.  "No," he said.  "I just saw what they were doing to the flag."

The next day, a government protocol man called mrs. Gifford from Washington to apologize for any disturbance the astronauts might have caused, and to offer to pay for the complimentary tickets they'd been given.  Mrs. Gifford assured him that wouldn't be necessary, but said she was still mystified as to what actually had provoked the astronauts' dramatic walk-out.  There was a pause, and the protocol man said, "I guess that line about the astronauts really means something, doesn't it?"

"What line about the astronauts?" Mrs. Gifford asked, not having the faintest idea what he was referring to.  "You know that line when a Negro kid says 'Man, I went to Harlem last night with a black-assed astronaut. He's from the dark side of the moon.'" "But that wasn't meant to reflect anything in particular about NASA," Mrs. Gifford told him. "Besides, you've got blacks in your space program anyhow, don't you?" "Well, we had a Negro in the astronaut training program at one time," the protocol man conceded. "But he died."

Some of the above vignettes, I think, illustrate a certain gusty innovativeness with which Hair companies all over the world have been managed.  But perhaps the greatest factor in the viability of this rather special musical has been the willingness of its producers and directors to let youth show them the way.

According to Ted Rado, brother of one of the authors, and the company's Artistic Director, the kids showing up for auditions are getting younger and younger.  "Now," he says, "we've got thirteen and fourteen year olds, incredibly talented kids, answering our ads."  Rado has just returned from Copenhagen, where several of the kids he cast were only fourteen and fifteen.  "Sort of forty-nine going on fourteen is the attitude these kids have," he says.  "They look at you with these eyes that know everything you know - only they're fifteen and you're thirty-five - and it's scary."

So far,  there have been a thousand kids employed as actors in various Hair companies, and Rado says that three-quarters of them had never been inside a legitimate theatre before.  But this is exactly what is wanted.  "When teaching them the show, which takes four weeks, we don't even like to use the word 'acting'.  We want them to represent onstage precisely what they are offstage.  If they don't, the show doesn't work."

With the kids so young and inexperienced, discipline sometimes becomes a problem.  "You try not to raise your voice until the last three days of rehearsal, but occasionally you have to shout and use the pressure bit," Rado says.  "Mostly, though, the discipline is organic.  They discover that learning all the dances is exciting.  Also, the kids are competing against all the other kids who've done Hair.  They want to be better than anyone has been before."

"Then there's the group intimacy that's bound to develop in working on a show like Hair.  Sometimes sensitivity exercises are used to work up a new cast of kids, but personally, I stay away from them.  I think that unless you really know what you're doing, psychologically, the sensitivity stuff can get out of hand.  I've seen kids break down into tears over something that's come up during those exercises."

It's the kids who are instrumental in changing the show from country to country, and even from community to community, so that each production will be relevant to those who come to see it.  Each production, for example, has an assigned "poster day" when the kids make up their own slogans and posters.  It's the kids in each cast who are asked to alter the script's political references to suit their own gripes.  Thus, in Copenhagen, it was the controversial Minister of Education and the tattooed King Frederick of Denmark who became the butt of many of the show's jokes.  In Washington, D.C. which has a large black theatre audience, the kids injected the script with even more black humor than it had, originally.

In a sense, Michael Butler was wrong.  It's not that the world hasn't changed since 1968, but that Hair has been permitted to change, under the direct influence of those indices of the future, "the kids".  The adults in charge of Hair have been wise enough to make the show's central theme - "trust the kids" - their modus operandi.  No doubt this had guided Hair's financial fortune at least as much as the stars.

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