Investigating the form authors gave to their story is also very important in order to show how they were zealous about influencing the audience.
Off-off Broadway theatres began to experiment in the fifties and one of the most innovative group was Ellen Stewart’s La Mama Experimental Theatre Club. Ragni and Rado had used its techniques “to transform their observations of youth culture in Greenwich Village into the script” (Everett, Laird 237).
As Rado adds, Tom O’Horgan used various “sensitivity exercises” developed by Viola Spolin (Rado n. pag) so that the musical could offer the feeling of actors “living” their roles. Rado and Ragni knew from the beginning that the show will run on Broadway and the audience will be typical Broadway theatregoers - “their target audience was mainstream middle class” (Jones 249), that is why castings were less interested in professionalism than in finding actors who could interpret the material realistically.
O‘Horgan contributed heavily to the show by removing “the traditional invisible fourth wall” (Wollman 7) that prevents to interact directly with the audience. The very beginning of the show is a practical example of no fourth wall, the Tribe gathers slowly on the stage after mingling with audience. The same applies for “Let the Sunshine In”, when “the cast encourages the audience to come up on the stage to dance and sing” (Johnson,27).
The stage was designed to evoke the street of New York; Miller writes that much of the scene was built by things actors actually brought from street (n. pag.). Costumes were inspired by the hippie fashion, only a bit theatrically exaggerated.
The nude scene for the song “Where Do I Go” was something that provoked many vigorous reactions, although it lasted only for twenty seconds and nobody could see the whole stage clearly. But it still was viewed by critiques as dishonesty and sometimes it elicited violent reaction. The original aim nevertheless was nothing of a sexual context. Wollman even comments that the nudity was intended “merely as a beautiful comment about the young generation” (8).
Music of the play was marked by the avant-garde rules. Galt MacDremot was inspired by rock music and “not only did many of the lyrics not rhyme, but many of the songs did not really have endings so the audience did not know when to applaud” (Miller n. pag.). Experimental theatre movement tried to use lyrics as abstract sounds that contribute to the rhythm, what Miller sees in “Ain’t Got no Grass” and “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, where words are sung so quickly that no one could understand their meaning and they have no meaning after all (n. pag.).
Authors wanted even the choreography to be experimental, the movement should have been “less choreographed and more spontaneus” (Miller n. pag.).Smith and Litton add that “everything about Hair was designed to feel spontanious, the antithesis of the laquered smiles, drill-team formations of other latter-day musicals” (294).
Summarizing musical content
Nothing is so sure than that authors of Hair fully expressed their inspirations of the sixties in their musical. From characters, plot, themes that songs express to form the performance took everything is aimed to portray hippie movement. The first part of my hypothesis – that American society of the sixties inspired Hair – is fully confirmed.
The second part – whether Hair inspired American society in turn – is to be investigated in following chapter.
Reaction of American society
3.1 Presentation of musical
To not confuse reader while commenting on reactions of reviewers and audience it is better to shortly mention the way of musical from Off-Broadway to Broadway, since Hair was the first show to got from off-Broadway to Broadway.
After being rejected again and again from uptown producers, Joseph Papp offered authors that Hair could become the “inaugural production at the under-construction New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre for a limited run” (Johnson 231).
After a 6-week run, Hair had to move and Michael Butler “managed to move the show to the Cheetah Discotheque in midtown Manhattan” (Wollman, MacDermot, Trask 45). Because the place was still a working disco, the opening time had to be “7:30 pm – in those days B’way was 8:30 - and there was no time for intermission, so that dancing could start at 10 pm” (Rado n.pag.). 23rd January 1968 The New York Times “reported that the show opened for the last time” (Bártová 43).
After the experience gained in the Public Theatre and Cheetah engagement, authors decided that the form had to change. MacDermot, Rado and Ragni “had rewritten the text and added 13 new songs, expanding the score from 20 to 33 numbers” (Rado n. pag.). Authors also wanted “casting to be done all over again, they had chosen new director, Tom O’Horgan, they wanted new designers (with lightning designer Jules Fisher, set designer Robin Wagner and costume designer Nancy Potts), they hired new choreographer Julie Arenal and new Tribe of actors” (Rado n. pag.).
Finally Butler was able to strike a deal with the owner of the Biltmore Theaer, on 47th Street . The show opened on April 29, 1968 and closed on July 1972.
In the Biltmore Theatre the show ran for 4 years, 5 years it was played in the London’s West End (from 27th September 1968), at the Shaftesbury Theatre, but only after “censorship law, which found some Hair scenes inappropriate” (Bártová 48), was canceled. Half a year after Broadway opening a new company was formed in Los Angeles, with Michael Butler as a producer and both Rado and Ragni as actors. Michael Butler also produced another 9 other engagements in 9 US cities and Hair was played there simultaneously, later there also were some national tours.
3.2 Critical reception
3.2.1 Positive reviews
Nash writes that critics were nearly unanimous in praising Hair, reviewer Clive Barnes from the New York Times called it “new, fresh and unassuming” (60). John J. O’Connor of The Wall Street Journal commented that “the show was exuberantly defiant and the production explodes into every nook and cranny of the Biltmore Theater” (n. pag.). Richard Watts Jr. of the New York Post thought that “it has a surprising if perhaps unintentional charm, its young zestfulness makes it difficult to resist” (n. pag.). Television critic Allan Jeffreys of ABC said the actors were “most talented hippies directed in a wild fashion by Tom O’Horgan” (n. pag.) and Leonard Probst of NBC replied by “Hair is the only new concept musical on the Broadway in years and it’s more fun than any other this season” (n. pag.). Len Harris of CBS said “I’ve finally found the best musical of the Broadway season” (n. pag.).
3.2.2 Negative reviews
Bártová nevertheless also names the second group that hated Hair. James Davis criticised mainly “cumbersome music, terrible dancing and cast that seemed mentally retarded” (Bártová 40). A reviewer from Variety called the show “without story, form, music, dancing, beauty or artistry” and could not tell “whether the cast has talent, but maybe talent is irrelevant in this kind of showbusiness” (n. pag.). Reviewer from Time wrote that although the show “thrums with vitality, it is crippled by being a bookless musical and – like a boneless fish – it drifts when it should swim” (n. pag.). Goldman never understood why someone so mature and old as Rado could play a role of young kid shamefully being drafted (n. pag.), he also very strongly opposed the nude scene, which he found “unnecessary, not shocking but tasteless and in no way expressing freedom, just a commercial idea” (n. pag.). He liked the off-Broadway version much more.
According to Sova newspaper theater critics “condemned the play for its “irreverence” and “vulgarity” as well for nudity” (107) but that their disapproval was reserved mainly for what they viewed as amateurish and repetitive scenes and unintelligible lyrics (Sova 108). Michael Smith also joined the opposition camp. He was very disappointed by how authors portrayed East Village in which he lived for very long time. He called Hair “undisguised opportunism exploiting any conflict issues to become stunning or actual” (Bártová 51).
Some reviewers reacted to Hair as to new invention on the musical field. For example Clive Barnes applauded authors for not being afraid of creating musical without story and ruin therefore Broadway rules (Bártová 53). But lots of other reviewers were afraid of possibility of such direction in musical showbusiness.
Nevertheless, by the end of the season drama critics voted to name Galt MacDermot best composer of the season and Ragni and Rado as best lyricists and with 1750 performances on Broadway Hair was placed among the top 30 longest-running plays (Sova 108).