Hair (theatre)

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The original rock musical, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical debuted in 1967 and is very much an artifact of its times, particularly the bohemian, hippie, Free Love and anti-Vietnam-War movements, but at the same time has found new relevance in subsequent revivals, including the Tony award winning, 2009 Broadway revival. It was also very experimental for its times, involving nudity, audience participation and with some actors planted amongst the audience, not to mention scandalous for reasons which will be covered in the plot synopsis. The libretto (lyrics and dialogue) were written by its co-stars, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and the music by Galt MacDermot.

Hair was also made into a Rock Opera Concert Album and various hit singles including "Age Of Aquarius" and "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In)", and interestingly, was made into an often forgotten (but still unique) film, by Miloš Forman, starring John Savage. Both feature most of the original cast and variations on the original songs.

The musical stars Claude, The Hero (Rado), the leader of a "tribe" of New York hippies, and his two friends Lancer Berger (Ragni) and Sheila, a Soapbox Sadie. After various songs extolling the various practices and issues afoot (Colored Spade for racism, Hashish for drug use, Sodomy for alternative sexuality, Ain't Got No for the tribe's semi-deliberate poverty), making it clear that this is a Divided States of America due to the differing values between generations. This is underlined when the play does a Smash Cut to the entire tribe having an orgy (yes, onstage) and the maid walks in. Claude is promptly berated by six cast members representing his parents, each one with a different costume and concern (we said it was experimental), and is told that he should join the army. He leaves, and (after another couple of songs) returns to admit that he passed his draft physical and may be forced to go fight The Vietnam War.

A man in drag comes in. He leaves again after singing a very high song about peacocks and flashing the audience, and the tribe calls him Margaret Mead. (This was a Shout-Out at the time, though it looks like a Non Sequitur Scene today.) The tribe is then invited to a "Be-In", where the male members of the tribe burn their draft cards... All except Claude, who gets some quality angst out of whether he ought to or not. At this point, the tribe (or at least those actors in it who have chosen to do so) emerge naked on stage (we said it was scandalous), inviting the remaining cast members, and audience, to partake in "beads, flowers, freedom, happiness." Then a cop comes in and arrests everyone in the theatre on charges of obscenity. The tribe flees and the act ends.

After the play resumes, there's a short skit where tribe members act out what Claude's draft interview must've been like. Berger then gives Claude a hallucinogen, and most of the act is dedicated to depicting, on-stage and with frightening accuracy, Claude's resulting Mushroom Samba (we said it was experimental), which involves: a roll call of important historical figures; an Abraham Lincoln played by a black woman ("Shit, I ain't dyin for no white man!"); a slapstick comedy sequence in which some Buddhists get killed by some Catholic nuns, who get killed by some astronauts (with Frickin' Laser Beams), who get killed by some Chinese, who get killed by some Native Americans, who get killed by some Green Berets, who all kill each other, and then everyone gets up and plays like children until the play gets violent and they all kill each other again. About this time Claude decides reality would be better and snaps out of it, having decided that he wants to be "a spirit?invisible." That is what he becomes: the tribe holds an anti-war protest, but can't see Claude because he has succumbed to the draft. He is shielded from the audience's eyes while the closing number goes on, eventually revealed to be lying in state on the ground, at which point he is covered with a black cloth. The cast reprises the final number and invites the audience to come up on stage and dance with them.

The film version ends on a particularly Dark Reprise with a shocking ending, while the play ends on The Untwist. Various productions use various songs and elements, and being done by hippies, the production was continually tweaked and improved upon.

Audiences and critics loved the show, partially because it averted or subverted many of the era's most dominant tropes (and, for that matter, many of theatre's most dominant tropes; among other things, the set was minimal and there were no curtains whatsoever). It did what it wanted to, and it worked. Plus, there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity either. It was not only the first Rock Musical, directly preceding shows like Rent and Spring Awakening, it was the first Concept Album Musical too (in which the central theme of the show is more important than the show's narrative), which culminated in A Chorus Line in '75. Good Morning, Starshine and The Age Of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In got some respectable airplay as singles. Most importantly, it helped revive the flagging theatre scene and completely rewrote the common perspective of what you could get away with onstage.

In 1979, Miloš Forman directed a film adaptation of the play.


Tropes used in Hair (theatre) include:
  • Alternate Continuity: Just about every version that's ever been performed uses a different version of the plot, alternate lines, and alternate song list, which is why fans of the movie are not too irritated by deviations from the original play.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: ...maybe.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Sodomy...fellatio...cunnilingus...pederasty....
    • Although in the 1960s, all of the above mentioned acts would probably be equally repellant to mainstream society.
  • Drugs Are Bad: defiantly averted.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Mick Jagger, canonically.
  • "I Am" Song: Manchester, England for Claude; Donna for Berger; Hair for the musical; the musical itself for hippies everywhere.
  • "I Want" Song: Where Do I Go, Easy To Be Hard, and probably others (keep in mind that there's like 35 songs in the musical, many of which are only a couple minutes long).
  • List Song:
    • Sodomy / Hashish—a list of unmentionable acts and drugs, respectively.
    • Colored Spade -- "Iiiiii'm aaaaaa..." list of pernicious African-American stereotypes.
    • Ain't Got No—the song is an insanely fast recitation of things the hippies don't need or can't afford.
    • I Got Life—a recitation of body parts
  • "London, England" Syndrome: Claude's song "Manchester, England".
  • Love Triangle: between Claude, Berger, and Sheila (and to some degree, Jeanie and Woof), all of whom like each other:

Jeanie: This is the way it is. I’m hung up on Claude. Sheila’s hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger. And as a prospective mother, I would just like to say that there is something highly unusual going on here, and furthermore, Woof is hung up on Berger.

  • Messianic Archetype: Claude
  • Mushroom Samba: most of Act 2.
  • New Age Retro Hippie: Unbuilt Trope.
  • No Fourth Wall: When it played in 2005 in Toronto, the cast members spent the half-hour before the show in the audience, acting high and asking audience members questions. The show itself made tons of references to the audience, making it a very entertaining experience.
    • This is actually very common. This troper has spent years traveling around the world seeing the show (he's a tad obsessed) and most shows have the cast in the audience before the curtain goes up.
  • Notable Original Music: And how.
  • Sex Is Good: A scandalous attitude to have, all agree.
  • The Sixties: One of the quintessential works of the period.
  • Too Much Information: Being in the audience when a friend is in the nude scene.
  • The Vietnam War: It doesn't deal with the war directly, but it underlines much of the action of the play.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Gender-reversed with "Black Boys/White Boys". White women sing the praises of black men, followed by black women singing the praises of white men.