In its day it was highly influential, marking the moment when theatre and the musical caught up with the Hippy revolution sweeping the western world with its heady cocktail of psychedelics, peace and love, flower power, and rock and roll.
“Hair” premiered off-Broadway in the US in 1968, promising its audiences that the age of Aquarius was dawning, and it was now OK to let it all hang out and live a freer lifestyle. It soon became a huge hit worldwide. It is credited with being the first rock musical.
Now a special production of “Hair”, tweaked for the age of Trump, premieres in London this week to mark the ground-breaking show’s 50th anniversary.
The show, staged in London’s Vaults theatre, features updates to the dialogue and song lyrics written by James Rado, who wrote the original show with Germoe Ragni, to comment on contemporary politics. Among the updates, characters sing about making “America stronger,” – a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. The new production also features new scenes and other dialogue.
“I think what Jim Rado wanted to do was just make it a little bit more apparent and clear that America and other Western countries, including Britain, haven’t necessarily moved forward as quickly as we’d hoped,” said director Jonathan O’Boyle. “There’s a lot of stuff in the show that is still really pertinent. Women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, environmental issues, nuclear power, nuclear war, all those things that sadly are happening or still continuing to happen in America today 50 years later. So it makes me quite sad and mad that you know, a country and a society hasn’t necessarily learned or moved forward as quickly as we’d hope.”
“Hair” follows the fortunes of The Tribe – a group of hippies fighting conscription into the Vietnam war in 1960s New York.
It was highly controversial upon its first release for its full-frontal nudity, liberal depiction of drug taking and irreverent treatment of the American flag, which was displayed up-side down and laid on the floor. The show had lengthy runs on Broadway and on London’s West End, and songs like “Aquarius” and “Good Morning Starshine” helped the original Broadway cast recording sell almost three million copies.
✌️EXCLUSIVE first look at our 50th Anniversary production of #Hair at
TheVaultsUK</a> here: <a href="https://t.co/wGLqk54ZKf">https://t.co/wGLqk54ZKf</a>! 💚 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JoinTheTribe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JoinTheTribe</a> <a href="https://t.co/hK3oWrgiIc">pic.twitter.com/hK3oWrgiIc</a></p>— Hair the Musical (Hair50London) October 10, 2017
Despite the social and political changes since the show’s creation, its themes of racism, fears of nuclear war – and it’s irreverent treatment of the American flag – mean that is still relevant to the current political discussion.
“Everything that hippies were fighting for then, is still needing to be fought for today,” said Andy Coxon, who plays hippy George Berger. “You’d be surprised how much things haven’t changed. A lot has, but we still have a way to go.” Would the U.S. president himself, currently embroiled in a row over American football players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem in protest, approve of the show?
“He’d probably hate it,” said O’Boyle.
EveningStandard</a> review: "Spirit of the Sixties shines through" <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JoinTheTribe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JoinTheTribe</a> <a href="https://t.co/unHfkjx32K">https://t.co/unHfkjx32K</a></p>— Hair the Musical (Hair50London) October 12, 2017
Coxon says the 50-year-old show has lost none of its relevance. “You’d be very surprised when you watch it how poignant it still is today. With everything that’s going on in the news and around the world, it still matters today. Everything that hippies were fighting for then, is still needing to be fought for today. You’d be surprised how much things haven’t changed. A lot has, but we still have a way to go,” he said.
Laura Johnson plays Sheila. “I think we’re at a stage now where young people have realised that they have to take stock and take charge. And if they want things to happen they’ve got to go out there and do it themselves. It’s not a time to be passive anymore. And what I’ve loved about playing Sheila in particular as well is actually I feel like her traits are kind of rubbing off on me a little bit now. She’s made me much more aware of what is going on at the moment and hopefully getting young people to come and see the show as well is going to instill a little bit more fire in people to go out there and try and make a change,” she says.
The 50th anniversary production of “Hair” opens on October 17 and runs until January 13, 2018.