The Background of “Hair!” the Musical Explained

Mariah Sletten | Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Ramon Varela

Ramon Varela | Photographer

“‘Hair!’ is a very socially conscious play,” says Paul Aberasturi, director of Century’s production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical.” “It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s risque at times, but it’s very passionate; it’s very heartfelt.”

Shirley Mier, who is directing music for the show, says that “Hair!” unlike many representations of particular moments in history, “was written by people who were actually there at that time. It’s a creation of its own time period.” Mier says that James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who wrote the script and lyrics for the musical, “were very much part of the scene. They knew people that were part of the counter- culture.”

Rado writes, on the official “Hair!website, that he and Ragni met through another production in which they were both cast as actors, and they had concocted the musical together. “At first, we had considerable difficulty finding a composer,” Rado explains, but then they met Galt McDermot, and “it was love at first sound.”

“It’s interesting to note,” says Mier, “that the composer, Galt McDermot, was not really part of the counter culture scene. He lived in a completely different part of New York,” she explains. “He had a wife and a family, which, you know, was not part of that scene at all. But he was very inspired by the counter-culture, and the music he wrote, I think, fits really well with the music of that era.”

“Hair!” debut fifty years ago, in 1967. The musical made it to Broadway in April 1968, but “began its run 40 blocks to the south, in the East Village, as the inaugural production of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater,” according to a “This Day in History” entry on History.com. “No show had ever gone from off-Broadway to Broadway before,” Rado writes. “Hair! was one of the first.”

Aberasturi says that “Hair!” is written in a way where “it’s the hippies that knowledgeably go into a theater and, in the play, the hippies talk directly to the audience: ‘Hey audience!’ They talk to them, and they say, ‘We know you’re here. We know you’re watching us. We’re presenting our life to you, so you understand who we are.’”

Rado writes about the original Broadway cast, “They lived it to the point where they became it… and the audience knew they were looking at the real thing.”

“Everybody in the cast is part of what is called ‘the tribe,’” Aberasturi explains. (Actors for the original casts were selected from local people.) Aberasturi says about selecting cast members for Century’s production, “I’m looking for people who are willing to go and experiment and do things that are out of their normal 2017 circle of life, things that they’ve ever experienced before, because I’m asking them to go step back in time—you know, 50 years ago—into this weird subculture, and do wild and crazy things.”

Some of the wild and crazy things you’ll see in the musical include drugs and nudity, which were very much parts of the hippie scene. (The hippies thought of drugs as a way to open up spiritually, rather than just their next fix.)

“We have a lot of marijuana that gets smoked onstage,” says Will Slayden, the production’s technical director. He amends, “Obviously, we can’t use real marijuana, because that would get me arrested, so instead we use this: It’s sage and mint, but it looks pretty darn good, and it smokes fairly well, and smells right when it smokes.”

As for the nudity in the musical, Aberasturi says that context matters. “It’s not sexual,” he explains. “It’s celebrating: ‘We have nothing to hide. This is who we are. We don’t need clothes to mask or make people think that we’re somebody other than we are.’”

Aberasturi likens the nude scene in “Hair!” to other versions of nude art, like paintings of the Renaissance era. (Artists study nude bodies to learn about form, shape, and movement. The nudity in Hair! is…).

“All the hippies on stage—and I’ve got thirty of them in this cast,” says Aberasturi, “All of the characters are saying: ‘You’ve got to understand who we are. Peace is important. Love is Important. This is who we are. We need to care for each other.’”

Slayden says, “politically, there are a lot of relevant themes that last through to the political world that is today. A lot of the statements that are made by this script could just as easily be made on a street corner of Minneapolis, and have the same relevance.” Kelly Knox, who plays the character Rosie, says, “I think today history is definitely repeating itself. We still have the activists and we still have the protests like we did in the 60’s.” Aberasturi explains, “They’re worried about… pollution and the environment, and issues about that, issues of the civil rights, and issues of women’s rights, and gay rights… and he fear of going to war, and … how much should we get involved with other people, and fighting, and hurting other people in other countries, and all of that?” He poignantly notes, “it’s interesting in one respect, and scary in another.”

Many of the same issues the hippie counter- culture faced in the mid-sixties are still relevant today. “They’re worried about… pollution and the environment, and issues about that, issues of the civil rights, and issues of women’s rights, and gay rights… and the fear of going to war, and… How much should we get involved with other people, and fighting, and hurting other people in other countries, and all of that?” Aberasturi poignantly notes, “It’s interesting in one respect and scary in another.”

All of these issues are put forth in a vivid display of dance, lights, and rock’n’roll, on a set Slayden says is designed to look like “buttons on a hippie’s denim jacket,” blown up to massive proportions.

“It’s a very multimedia production,” says Aberasturi, “so there’s videos and photos going on throughout the entire play, at all sides: above your head, and on the side walls, on the back of the set… The audience is going to be inundated with stimuli.”

Admission for the musical is free for all current Century College students, faculty, and staff.
$10 for students from any other institution with a school ID
$12 for everyone else.

Show Times are at 7:30pm on the following dates: Fri-Sat, April 21-22,
Thurs-Sat, April 27-29, and Thurs-Sat, May 4-6.

You can buy tickets or reserve a seat online at www.showtix4u.com.

Photo Credit: Ramon Varela
Photo Credit: Ramon Varela