Note: Gnome-mime-sound-openclipart // Swedish 1968 Hair Cast 2015 Stockholm // Gnome-mime-sound-openclipart
Reception to Hair upon its Broadway premiere was, with exceptions, overwhelmingly positive. Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times: "What is so likable about Hair...? I think it is simply that it is so likable. So new, so fresh, and so unassuming, even in its pretensions." John J. O'Connor of The Wall Street Journal said the show was "exuberantly defiant and the production explodes into every nook and cranny of the Biltmore Theater". Richard Watts Jr. of the New York Post wrote that "it has a surprising if perhaps unintentional charm, its high spirits are contagious, and its young zestfulness makes it difficult to resist."
Television reviews were even more enthusiastic. Allan Jeffreys of ABC said the actors were "the most talented hippies you'll ever see... directed in a wonderfully wild fashion by Tom O'Horgan." Leonard Probst of NBC said "Hair is the only new concept in musicals on Broadway in years and it's more fun than any other this season". John Wingate of WOR TV praised MacDermot's "dynamic score" that "blasts and soars", and Len Harris of CBS said "I've finally found the best musical of the Broadway season... it's that sloppy, vulgar, terrific tribal love rock musical Hair."
A reviewer from Variety, on the other hand, called the show "loony" and "without a story, form, music, dancing, beauty or artistry.... It's impossible to tell whether [the cast has] talent. Maybe talent is irrelevant in this new kind of show business." Reviews in the news weeklies were mixed; Jack Kroll in Newsweek wrote, "There is no denying the sheer kinetic drive of this new Hair... there is something hard, grabby, slightly corrupt about O'Horgan's virtuosity, like Busby Berkeley gone bitchy." But a 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."
Reviews were mixed when Hair opened in London. Irving Wardle in The Times wrote, "Its honesty and passion give it the quality of a true theatrical celebration – the joyous sound of a group of people telling the world exactly what they feel." In The Financial Times, B. A. Young agreed that Hair was "not only a wildly enjoyable evening, but a thoroughly moral one." However, in his final review before retiring after 48 years, 78-year-old W. A. Darlington of The Daily Telegraph wrote that he had "tried hard", but found the evening "a complete bore – noisy, ugly and quite desperately funny."
Acknowledging the show's critics, Scott Miller wrote in 2001 that "some people can't see past the appearance of chaos and randomness to the brilliant construction and sophisticated imagery underneath." Miller notes, "Not only did many of the lyrics not rhyme, but many of the songs didn't really have endings, just a slowing down and stopping, so the audience didn't know when to applaud.... The show rejected every convention of Broadway, of traditional theatre in general, and of the American musical in specific. And it was brilliant."
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1969||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Tom O'Horgan||Nominated|
|Grammy Award||Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album||Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, & James Rado, composers. Andy Wiswell, producer.||Won|
2009 Broadway revival
|2009||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Won|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Gavin Creel||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Will Swenson||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design of a Musical||Michael McDonald||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design of a Musical||Kevin Adams||Nominated|
|Best Sound Design of a Musical||Acme Sound Partners||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Diane Paulus||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Karole Armitage||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Won|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Will Swenson||Nominated|
|Outstanding Choreography||Karole Armitage||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Michael McDonald||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical||Kevin Adams||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Diane Paulus||Nominated|
Excerpts from the title song, "Hair"
I let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees,
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair....
They'll be ga ga at the Go Go when they see me in my toga,
Hair challenged many of the norms held by Western society in 1968. The name itself, inspired by the name of a Jim Dine painting depicting a comb and a few strands of hair, was a reaction to the restrictions of civilization and consumerism and a preference for naturalism. Rado remembers that long hair "was a visible form of awareness in the consciousness expansion. The longer the hair got, the more expansive the mind was. Long hair was shocking, and it was a revolutionary act to grow long hair. It was kind of a flag, really."
The musical caused controversy when it was first staged. The Act I finale was the first time a Broadway show had seen totally naked actors and actresses, and the show was charged with the desecration of the American flag and the use of obscene language. These controversies, in addition to the anti–Vietnam War theme, attracted occasional threats and acts of violence during the show's early years and became the basis for legal actions both when the show opened in other cities and on tour. Two cases eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Legal challenges and violent reactions
The touring company of Hair met with resistance throughout the United States. In South Bend, Indiana, the Morris Civic Auditorium refused booking, and in Evansville, Indiana, the production was picketed by several church groups. In Indianapolis, Indiana, the producers had difficulty securing a theater, and city authorities suggested that the cast wear body stockings as a compromise to the city's ordinance prohibiting publicly displayed nudity. Productions were frequently confronted with the closure of theaters by the fire marshal, as in Gladewater, Texas. Chattanooga's 1972 refusal to allow the play to be shown at the city-owned Memorial Auditorium was later found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be an unlawful prior restraint.
The legal challenges against the Boston production were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Chief of the Licensing Bureau took exception to the portrayal of the American flag in the piece, saying, "anyone who desecrates the flag should be whipped on Boston Common." Although the scene was removed before opening, the District Attorney's office began plans to stop the show, claiming that "lewd and lascivious" actions were taking place onstage. The Hair legal team obtained an injunction against criminal prosecution from the Superior Court, and the D.A. appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. At the request of both parties, several of the justices viewed the production and handed down a ruling that "each member of the cast [must] be clothed to a reasonable extent." The cast defiantly played the scene nude later that night, stating that the ruling was vague as to when it would take effect. The next day, April 10, 1970, the production closed, and movie houses, fearing the ruling on nudity, began excising scenes from films in their exhibition. After the Federal appellate bench reversed the Massachusetts court's ruling, the D.A. appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 4–4 decision, the Court upheld the lower court's decision, allowing Hair to re-open on May 22.
In April 1971, a bomb was thrown at the exterior of a theater in Cleveland, Ohio that had been housing a production, bouncing off the marquee and shattering windows in the building and in nearby storefronts. That same month, the families of cast member Jonathon Johnson and stage manager Rusty Carlson died in a fire in the Cleveland hotel where 33 members of the show's troupe had been staying. The Sydney, Australia production's opening night was interrupted by a bomb scare in June 1969.
Local reactions to the controversial material varied greatly. San Francisco's large hippie population considered the show an extension of the street activities there, often blurring the barrier between art and life by meditating with the cast and frequently finding themselves onstage during the show. An 18-year-old Princess Anne was seen dancing onstage in London, and in Washington DC, Henry Kissinger attended. In St. Paul, Minnesota, a protesting clergyman released 18 white mice into the lobby hoping to frighten the audience. Capt. Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert, after dubbing Apollo 13's lunar module "Aquarius" after the song, walked out of the production at the Biltmore in protest of perceived anti-Americanism and disrespect of the flag.
An Acapulco, Mexico production of Hair, directed by Castelli, played in 1969 for one night. After the performance, the theater, located across the street from a popular local bordello, was padlocked by the government, which said the production was "detrimental to the morals of youth." The cast was arrested soon after the performance and taken to Immigration, where they agreed to leave the country, but because of legal complications they were forced to go into hiding. They were expelled from Mexico days later.
Hair effectively marked the end of stage censorship in the United Kingdom. London's stage censor, the Lord Chamberlain, originally refused to license the musical, and the opening was delayed until Parliament passed a bill stripping him of his licensing power. In Munich, authorities threatened to close the production if the nude scene remained; however, after a local Hair spokesman declared that his relatives had been marched nude into Auschwitz, the authorities relented. In Bergen, Norway, local citizens formed a human barricade to try to prevent the performance.
The Parisian production encountered little controversy, and the cast disrobed for the nude scene "almost religiously" according to Castelli, nudity being common on stage in Paris. Even in Paris there was nevertheless occasional opposition, however, such as when a member of the local Salvation Army used a portable loud speaker to exhort the audience to halt the presentation.