Gerome Ragni 1942– James Rado 1932–
Ragni—American lyricist, playwright, and actor.
Rado—(Born James Radomski) American lyricist, composer, playwright, actor, and producer.
The rock musical play Hair has become a dramatized over-view of the 1960s. The Ragni-Rado lyrics span nearly all of the issues protested and embraced by the youth of that decade. The human body, marijuana, love, and sex were celebrated by the characters while they showed their contempt for war, pollution, and the establishment in general. The rebellion even extended to the conventions of the theater as the musical progressed in a haphazard fashion. The characteristics of the show denounced by some critics, such as the lack of a plot and the seemingly unchoreographed dancing, reflected the hippie movement that advocated a carefree, unconventional lifestyle.
The Ragni-Rado lyrics and Galt MacDermot's music have most often been cited as the best aspects of the play. The lyrics have been called fresh, innocent, and vital, but also rambling and of little importance. The play was also criticized for its idealized depiction of flower children and its failure to show even one sympathetic adult. Hair's topical characterization of the sixties weakened its effect and relevancy as early as three years after its opening. However, many critics felt that although it was a period piece, it would always have meaning for those who were a part of that era's counterculture.
Since Hair, Ragni and Rado have worked independently of each other. Their individual work, however, is not considered as proficient or important as Hair. In Rado's play Rainbow which could have been the sequel to Claude's story in Hair, a young man is killed in Viet Nam and taken to the rainbow world. The lyrics of Rainbow were written by Rado, in collaboration with his brother Ted. Their use of surreal imagery has caused reviewers to compare these lyrics to the works of Lewis Carroll. Rado's music for the play, combining country, big band, and show business styles, was better received than other rock musicals for its coherence.
Ragni's Dude was not so critically acclaimed as Hair and Rainbow. The play was an allegory about "that great theater in the sky" and the loss of innocence. It was said to be unclear in its allegorical representations. The critics see the lack of structure that was so successful in Hair as failing here and generally considered it an ambitious work that fell short of its potential.
Together, Ragni and Rado created a work that was a statement for its time and appealed to theater-goers and critics alike. Although the context of Hair is considered somewhat outdated today, the issues examined remain a part of our consciousness.
If only good intentions were golden, "Hair" … would be great. As it is it is merely pretty good; an honest attempt to jolt the American musical into the nineteen-sixties, and a musical that is trying to relate to something other than Sigmund Romberg.
If it had a story—which to be honest it hasn't—that story would be about the young disenchanted, turned on by pot, switched off by the draft, living and loving, the new products of affluence, the dispossessed dropouts. That, if it had a story, would be what "Hair" is about.
But "Hair" is sparing storywise—as someone might say. A boy wants to get to bed with a certain girl before he is drafted—yet that is not what "Hair" is all about. Much more, it is a mood picture of a generation—a generation dominated by drugs, sex and the two wars, the one about color and the one about Vietnam….
The intention is clear enough—to show a generation that has freaked out of the American "bedrock foundation of baths and underarm deodorant." The picture given, however, is only honest in parts, for the authors not only have little or no interest in dramatic structure, they are also easy prey for the first shiver of theatrical exaggeration that strikes them….
Dancing, singing, swinging, prancing, the open stage becomes [the cast's] arena for protest—and although reality is always quite a long way away, it is always just near enough for you...
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I have mixed feelings about "Hair."… (p. 128)
"Hair" is a musical comedy about life among the hippies in New York—a mixture of humor and put-on humor and wistfulness and smugness and self-pity and baloney—and life among the hippies can grow awfully tiresome after a while. And disagreeable as well; the second act is mostly taken up with a drug party—a farewell celebration for one of the characters, who has just been drafted—and it is a distressing concept. Even so, the show does have a life of its own, which is always rare and which cancels out some of my objections. Then, too, the sight of such a patently vigorous and high-spirited bunch drooping up and down the aisles as hippies in beads, panhandling and passing out leaf-lets, is just ironic enough to make some inroads into the attendant depressing effects…. "Hair" simply could not have existed ten years ago, and it is conceivable that it could mystify audiences ten years from now, but it does catch, and quite successfully, one of the many moods and aspects of life in this city in 1967. (pp. 128-30)
Edith Oliver, "The Theatre: 'Hair'," in The New Yorker (© 1967 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLIII, No. 38, November 11, 1967, pp. 127-28, 130.∗
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The story line of "Hair" … is so attenuated that it would be merciful to label the piece a revue. Examined under this rubric, it can be appreciated for what it essentially is—a wild, indiscriminate explosion of exuberant, impertinent youthful talents. What if coherence is lacking, discipline meager and taste often deplorable? The youngsters—authors and performers—have the kind of vitality that sends the memories of an older theatergoer wandering back to the twenties—to the bright impudence of "The Grand Street Follies" and "The Garrick Gaieties."
"Hair," it seems to me, is today's equivalent to those Off-Broadway revues of four decades ago in which another generation of gifted newcomers proclaimed their arrival. There are, of course, significant differences in content and style, but the great, overriding similarity is that of new voices expressing themselves with a freshness and vigor that warn they mean to take over uptown one of these days….
"Hair" is much more concerned with the larger issues than its predecessors of the twenties. Although it devotes a good deal of time to the tribal rites of the hippies, it lashes out at public figures. Its comment on the war in Vietnam is biting, and its contempt for contemporary institutions is unmistakable….
Could be that the score of "Hair" will shape up as an authentic voice of the popular culture of 1967.
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The concept of a hippie musical with an electronic score is potentially very exciting, and I am convinced that the sound of rock—a sound that has developed real drive, sophistication and vitality—is destined to become of tremendous importance to our stage. But despite its effective moments, Hair is still too closely linked to the meretricious conventions of American musicals to realize this potential, and there is something intrinsically one-dimensional in the hippie movement which prevents the material from ever developing a texture of any thickness.
Since the hippies have recently become the victims of a vast publicity network, there is also something intrinsically voguish about their scene, and this gives one the recurrent feeling that Hair is going out of fashion even as it is being performed. Like Viet Rock—to which it owes its inspiration and even a few of its episodes—Hair is pieced together out of newspapers and magazine sections, being a topical series of allusions to contemporary politics and culture, designed less to convey information than to play imaginatively upon what is already known.
Some of this is entertaining, but in none of it do we sense that the authors have thought about or felt their material very deeply, and they are too mindless in their acceptance of the teenage version of reality. The nonhippie world is facilely identified as a society of Puritan Moms...
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Hair has a minimum of plot, being content merely to try to describe what it is like to be a teen-age hippie. Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the book and lyrics … appear to take no sides in the war between generations. But because they are attempting to show us the world as it looks to the kids, the older people are presented as parodies of such attitudes as the one which allows a man to be proud that his son will die for his country in Vietnam….
There is a good deal of irreverent humor, and one touchingly funny song in which a girl … asks in an innocent voice that an obviously insensitive brief acquaintance return and take advantage of her and her girl friend again. Oddly enough, the best of the music is that which sounds least rock 'n' roll. Indeed, the lovely "Good Morning Starshine,"… which captures the wonderful feeling a young girl experiences when she stays up all night with a young man, would be a hit in a more conventional musical.
All in all, Hair is only a sporadically engaging musical, but if you would like to take a first step toward comprehending the younger generation, it seems to be a truer and fairer representation of hippiedom than anything the theater has offered so far.
Henry Hewes, "The Theater of Shattered Focus," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1968 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by...
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What Hair has most to offer is the good-natured exuberance implicit in even the most ordinary rock music and embodied in the vitality of young performers. It has several amiable numbers—the ballad "Frank Mills," for instance; yet its songs are commonplace, musically and lyrically, compared to the work of the more sophisticated contemporary groups—the Rolling Stones in their most recent manifestation and the Beatles of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The plot, about which no one cares very much, is the old standard about the boy who loves the girl who loves the other boy who…. Although the show, despite its self-mockery, embraces the somewhat amorphous love ethic that is presumably rampant in hippiedom, it is a love that never quite takes in the two ugly ducklings who keep pressing their noses against the windows of their peer group.
Hair also has some satirical points to make—it is against war and air pollution—but it is not really an attack on our society, nor a plea for a more livable one. It is the creation of a bogus subculture, like the one that used to exist in Our Gang comedies, a children's world, divorced from reality, which is a comfort to middle-aged audiences who are bound to find it more attractive than Tompkins Square and certainly more palatable than Needle Park. There is much singing and talking about pot, LSD, and sex and a casual use of obscenities, but I went...
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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….
[When it was off-Broadway] its music came across with a kind of acid-rock, powerhouse lyricism, but the book, concerning the life and times of hippie protest was as rickety as a knock-kneed centipede.
Now the authors of the dowdy book—and brilliant lyrics—have done a very brave thing. They have in effect done away with it altogether. "Hair" is now a musical with a theme, not with a story. Nor is this all that has been done in this totally new, all lit-up, gas-fired, speed-marketed Broadway version. For one thing it has been made a great deal franker. In fact it has been made into the frankest show in town—and this has been a season not noticeable for its verbal or visual reticence….
[A] great many four-letter words, such as "love," are used very freely. At one point—in what is later affectionately referred to as "the nude scene"—a number of men and women … are seen totally nude and full, as it were, face.
Frequent references—frequent approving references—are made to the expanding benefits of drugs. Homosexuality is not frowned upon—one boy announces that he is in love with Mick Jagger, in terms unusually frank. The American flag is not desecrated—that would be a Federal offense, wouldn't it?—but it is used in a...
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"Hair" will be the "West Side Story" of the sixties. The difference between the two shows illustrates how far we've come in a decade. "West Side Story" had vigorous music, but a smarmy social conscience. It now seems awfully dated. In good liberal fashion, it romanticized the lower classes to within an inch of their downtrodden lives. Events have outrun its message, and the vision of slum gangs dancing into battle would probably strike today's young audience as odd, if not funny….
"Hair's" godparents are Marshall McLuhan and Herbert Marcuse, the prophet of polymorphous perversity…. Love, in "Hair," comes interracial, intrasexual, and in multiples of three. As well as the regular way….
"Marat/Sade," and now "Hair," bear the same relationship to an Ibsen play that a collage does to a realistic landscape. The new theater insists that its audience relinquish their demand for traditional structure. "A play is not a novel," it says. "A play is a collage of dramatic effects which calls for groovin', not understanding."…
"Hair" is a celebration, not a story. It celebrates the human body, marijuana, love and sex. For the first time on a Broadway stage, the human body is shown completely naked. That, too, is part of the collage we are asked to dig. The gesture is graceful and affecting. To ask what the scene "means" is to miss the point and to force drama back into the tired categories our best...
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[As an off-Broadway production] Hair was an unpretentious, charming, swinging little musical. Not without flaws, it was nevertheless youthful, zestful, tuneful, and brimful of life. In its new, Broadway version, it is merely fulsome. What happened? It would seem that the new producer was hellbent on giving uptowners a sensational revelation of how it really is; as part of that endeavor, he hired Tom O'Horgan [as director]…. Given his first go at Broadway, he was, like the producer, out to épater les bourgeois for all he was worth …; but, at the same time, care had to be exercised only to titillate the middle class, not to offend it. So, with shock and inoffensiveness as its contradictory aims, Hair was off on an internal collision course.
Typically, nudity, perversion, four-letter words were built up, whereas the story with its anti-war but also anti-bourgeois bias was either soft-pedaled or transmogrified into stingless farce, when not, actually, thrown out altogether. Thus there appeared throughout the original Hair a burlesque middle-class couple, who were also the hero's parents, but mostly the epitome of smug squareness. These figures have been turned into a transvestite posing as a bourgeoise with a castrato sidekick; or, in the family scene, a father and mother each in triplicate, the main third of the mother again a man in drag. The wistfully comic and, granted, somewhat...
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William F. Buckley, Jr.
"This, folks, is the Psychedelic Stone Age," says Claude, in the Broadway musical production, Hair. Claude opens the show by declaring that "… I'm a genius genius / I believe in Gawd / And I believe that Gawd / Believes in Claude / That's me that's me." Of course, Claude doesn't believe in Gawd—nobody does in the cast of Hair, because they are far too sophisticated, provided one understands that paganism is sophistication….
[A] great deal of energy—and talent—go into the production of this psychedelic extravaganza. It serves up everything from the shock-counter: boys love boys, American flags are desecrated, all those tired old four-letter words are used, there is male and female nudity, a leavening of sacrilege. The music and action are engagingly energetic, without having that frenetic feel which, like when Jimmy Durante starts breaking the piano, is a snakebite substitute for entertainment. The obscenities fail somehow to shock. The nudity is less remarkable by far than the posturings at the stripper joints. There are a few very false notes, as though an IBM programmer calculating a continuous shock, had accidentally blipped into normalcy, disturbing the even-ness of the iconoclasm. But in the end, the experience is saddening….
The hot blood of youth today begins tired. "Hey, lady, can you spare a handout, something for a poor young psychedelic teddybear like me? To keep my...
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[Hair] is a saturnalia in scatology that voices the revolt of the hippie generation, which rejects all traditional values of the social order, as well as the amenities of civilized living. There is no story, at least not one your observer could detect, only a mélange of what a few years ago were regarded as indecencies.
If the American theatre is performing its constitutional function according to Hamlet's prescription—that is, reflecting the form and pressure of the time—we are living in the most licentious era since the age of the Caesars. Perhaps Restoration society was more dissolute, but it could hardly have been more vulgar. In Hair we may be observing a Hogarthian canvas of a nation in decline….
It is not likely that any really adult spectator will be shocked by the uninhibited exposure of the human anatomy. Far more offensive are the disrespectful handling of the flag and the sacrilegious mockery of the Christian liturgy. One doubts that the impieties are representative of the vagaries of hippies, who seem to be passively alienated from current materialist pressures rather than aggressively hostile to the residue of spiritual forces in the modern world. Youths with anti-religious convictions are hardly likely to offer flowers to strangers…. (p. 759)
Since there is no coherent story, nomenclature is a problem. It is not a satire, a revue or any other type of...
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[There] is something curiously attractive about [Hair's] excessiveness (and vigor), its willingness to be both flamboyant and ruthless on behalf of its cause. The evening is a series of more or less salubrious shocks to the personality; and what keeps it steadily exhilarating is a kind of good-natured improvisatory humor that sweeps almost everything that might be offensive off the boards.
It is, in many places, a very funny show. A few laughs—the most dispensable ones—are one-liners, pure raggedy-end gags, which are not better, and sometimes are far worse, than the ones Guy Bolton or Dorothy and Herbert Fields used to write for standard musicals. Most are purely visual. Early in the show, Gerome Ragni … swings out over the audience's vulnerable heads on a rope, like Tarzan, while singing about his sixteen-year-old virgin mistress; Rado himself gets tarred-and-feathered before the performance is ten minutes under way; a pregnant young girl comes out briefly to eulogize pot and try to find a husband; and there is a brief transvestite moment later when a Scarsdale matron suddenly swings open her mink coat to reveal that she is wearing jockey shorts underneath. It is a hippie litany that is being unfolded here: in no particular order, individuality, love, pacifism, cosmology, and drugs, as well. (p. 107)
Robert Kotlowitz, "'Hair': Side, Back, and Front Views," in Harper's...
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The beleaguered youth of Hair live precarious, vulnerable lives. If it isn't the fuzz, vindictively breaking up a harmless 'suck-in' on the steps of city hall, it's the New York winter, driving them out of the parks and into bare, draughty pads. If it isn't either, it's their own nagging sensibilities. They are touchy, curiously touching people, for all their brashness and exuberance. They take things hard, ludicrously so at times. When one of them rejects the gift of an admittedly hideous yellow shirt from his girl friend, she promptly breaks into a song about social injustice, moral indignity and most of the other human evils. They feel themselves hemmed in by pressures both blunt and insidious—hence the pot and the acid, and invocations of love and the defensive huddling together for warmth.
Innocent, naive perhaps; yet the sum effect isn't self-pitying. The music, if nothing else, sees to that. The song and dance is the best of Hair, and the most of it too. It must be admitted that the brief spats of dialogue in between are rambling and inconsequential, decked out with insipid jokes, and bear all the signs of having been improvised by abstracted beatniks—as, indeed, perhaps they were. In any case, their function is only to give a broad, rather vague picture of the kind of way dropouts are presumed by the authors to feel and live. It is the music that's really expressive: aggressive, abrasive, rhythmic,...
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Hair comes rather as an anticlimax. The actual performance did not seem to contain any features that have not already been present in other avant-garde productions. (p. 165)
The theme, basically, is another protest against the Viet Nam War. A boy belonging to a drifting herd-like mass of drop-outs receives his call-up papers and, after trying ineffectually to escape his fate, has to submit and is shorn of his anarchistic locks. But these events are commented on wrily, rather than pugnaciously; it is as if the pet lamb of the flock had been snatched from the pastoral bliss of the hippie world and rudely clipped by Them, the grown-ups, the incomprehensible people who run society on the strange assumption that it is a serious, going concern. The flock itself, which keeps scattering and reforming in a manner more animal than human, is a micro-society within society…. What the music seems to suggest is that they are at their happiest when twitching and stamping in chorus. Each jerks and jangles separately, like a puppet on an invisible string, but they are all held together by the rhythm, which irons out uncertainty and solitude and beats on steadily to a collective climax. (pp. 166-67)
[The term "tribal music"] is perfectly justified. For one thing, the performers are a crowd, not a chorus-plusstars…. I am not arguing in favour of the traditional chorus, which I have always thought rather comic and...
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"Hair" is beautiful…. Nearly a year after the opening, the show has a kind of radiant freshness. It still seems as though the whole thing is swiftly, deftly and dazzlingly being improvised before your very eyes….
Seeing "Hair" again did raise a few questions. Its success stems from two things. First its perfect reflection of a generation that seems in no mood to lower its voice—it knows what whispering can do to people. Second the music by Galt MacDermot and the lyrics by Ragni and Rado. This is pop-pop, or commercial pop, with little aspirations to art—a clever and honest dilution of what is happening in pop music. Fundamentally it is pure Broadway—but Broadway 1969 rather than Broadway 1949.
Then I found myself thinking about so many of the misconceptions about "Hair," which seem to have risen among that great section of the public who have never seen the show.
People say that it attracts only middle-aged suburbanites … and has no appeal to youth. This is a lie….
Also, people say the show is dirty. Rubbish. It is as clean as Tide and not half so chemical. Members of the cast do occasionally use naughty words, but in a quite childlike fashion. They do—for one moment of social and esthetic revolt—take off their clothes if they wish to. But this is not obscene. It is also totally asexual. If you are proposing to go to "Hair" for sexual stimulation you don't need a...
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The real nature and significance of the [nude scene in Hair] seems to have gone unobserved by everyone.
Before we get into that, I want to define my position on the "moral" issue of Hair: I don't think there is one…. Perhaps the people who made and appear in Hair would like to think the "adult" world is uptight about the issue, but I don't think it is. Hair attacks only straw men, and by no stretch of the imagination is it daring….
I think Hair has no real social or philosophic point to make that hasn't been made earlier and better; it's fighting a war that has long since been won. But is it musically interesting?
Not to me it isn't, and not to most people I know who know music….
Hair has no story, it makes no point, and it has almost no music. When it went to Broadway, it was as uninteresting as it had been in the Village. And then somebody had an idea: have all the kids drop their pants at the end of Act I.
Now what's this? A meaningful confrontation? An effective protest? Hell no; it's a cheap old vaudeville device. When the comic couldn't get laughs in those days, he would drop his pants—a corny trick. And that's what I object to about Hair's nude scene: It's corny.
But it worked. All the little old ladies from Iowa, who see all the shows when they visit New York, were willing to lay...
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Hair has been the most successful music drama of the decade, if not of the entire postwar era…. [It] has been exalted as a paean to the health and vitality of today's youth, denounced as an open slander of time-tested ideals, dismissed as a commercial exploitation. Whatever one's opinions as to its worth, nobody can deny its success. (p. 9)
Hair has been widely hailed as the salvation of the Broadway musical, which has been dying an inexorable death from massive public indifference to arm-cranking chorines purveying plastic joy. But if this is so, then Hair and the phenomenon it represents must also be of great interest to opera-lovers, particularly those concerned with the unpleasant fact that a genuinely popular grand opera hasn't been written in forty-five years—not since Turandot. Somehow, somewhere back there along the line, audiences and composers parted ways; and ever since, people have been trying to rediscover the old ideal of the theater as the direct expression of its community, at the same time popular and profound…. And such hopes are some indication of why a work like Hair must be of direct concern to opera professionals and audiences. (pp. 9-10)
Hair, and the whole genre of rock opera which it can be said to represent, has aroused extraordinary interest in a wide variety of circles. We are now at the onset of a veritable inundation of such rock musicals....
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[I dearly wish that I had seen "Hair"] earlier—say, during the lamented 1967 "Summer of Love" that gave birth to it. For, astonishingly enough, the three years of history that have changed me along with everyone else have also left a perceptible patina of age on "Hair," a patina which no amount of newly minted anti-Nixon-and-Agnew jokes can dissipate—inspiring some glum thoughts….
The unexpected trouble with it is, so to speak, at its roots.
What was surely devastating about "Hair" in its infancy was the raw topicality of its depredations—anti-Vietnam War, anti-racist, anti-"normality"—combined with the earnest sincerity of its affirmations—peace, love, sexual liberty. It was a musical not so much about the then manic mood of radical American youth as a musical of it, a sort of mass theatrical self-portrait which authors Gerome Ragni and James Rado did not so much create as receive and transmit. It was America's first "relevant" musical. Unfortunately, relevance as a style is treacherous; it does not age gracefully, but rather passes from youth to senility without intermission. Watching the vividly real, passionate young folks of "Hair" today, one is repeatedly shocked by the rusty creak of allusions to Be-Ins, by the quaint ritual strewing of daisies, by the sanguine vision of easy interracial harmony, and innumerable other instant relics of an already doddering sensibility.
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The psychedelic years of the late 1960's had a musical stage spokesman in Hair. The authors, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, have revealed that for two years they had been putting down random ideas for a musical about the chaotic world around them, the people they knew and loved, and the people and things they hated and rebelled against, and the various other vagaries and indiscretions of the younger generation in the Vietnam war years. Whenever the authors thought of something appropriate, they jotted it down on scraps of paper…. One suspects that the authors then threw all the slips of paper high in the air, let them fall pellmell, and then proceeded to write their text by picking up the pieces of paper at random and following the chain of thought in the same sequence in which those papers were so haphazardly picked up (very much in the way that some aleatory composers write their music).
That's the kind of musical Hair is. In its outspoken revolt, it has even rebelled against the musical theater. It has no plot to speak of, no logical sequence of events, no train of thought, no recognizable format, no creative discipline, no shape or design. It's an explosion. Things are allowed to happen, however much some of these doings are unconventional or outright shocking. The dialogue is thick with profanity, and so are some of the song lyrics. The hippies, the love children, protest against war, racism, the draft, patriotism,...
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"What a big put-on!" is the cynical reaction many of us have on first being exposed to Hair. A closer look, however, might cause a wary reevaluation, for Hair's very dynamism could be part of our "hang-up." Unlike most plays in the theatrical tradition, every Hair production is a characteristically unique one…. The musical's ever-changing body at the same time hypnotizes us and deludes us. We must be wary of trying to read too much, of trying to find symbols in every word, in every bar of music: interpretation of the arts can be a treacherous game to play. (p. 626)
Hair has become a cause célèbre by virtue of its choice of language style. Fundamentally, however, if we are to admit that any artistic characterization in order to be true must accurately portray the language of the character speaking, then we should have no difficulty in accepting the language of these young actors—unless, of course, we delude ourselves into believing that the generation of the '60s and '70s does not talk "like that." Much of the language, as in reality, is a trial adoption used by young people; sometimes it is simply for shock value. Woof's introductory song on sexual taboo words shocks us—but at the same time poses a valid question: "Father, why do these words sound so nasty?" Implicit in this are the questions: "Why is society afraid to TALK about what is being DONE?," and, "Can words themselves constitute...
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[This] godson of "Hair" never quite makes it. ["Dude"'s] pretensions are always clearer than its achievements, yet even those pretensions are not without a certain naiveté that might endear the show to some…. [Those] wonderful folks who gave us "Hair," here give us a brave try.
[Here] the lack of discipline to that imagination, a freedom that proved so charming in "Hair," chains the musical down instead of liberating it. In "Hair" the very aimlessness of the piece, its random poetry and shafts of insight could afford the luxury of a nonstructure because it was describing a life style that deliberately embraced nonstructured patterns as its aim. "Dude," on the other hand, seems to be an allegory about "that great theater in the sky," and an allegory that is not clear, even on its primary level, is in no end of trouble.
The idea of "Dude," or what I can make out of it, is both complex and simplistic. It is, I presume, an attempt to demonstrate once more that all the world's a stage and the actors Jesus-people at their symbolic heart. It is about the loss of innocence.
Clive Barnes, "'Dude'," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 10, 1972 (and reprinted in The New York Times Theatre Reviews, The New York Times Company, 1973, p. 306).
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"Dude" might have been waved away as just another failed musical if it hadn't been for two things: its pedigree and its challenge. We were entirely aware of both as we sat—in the foothills, in the mountains, in the valleys, among the trees—watching it on opening night. The pedigree? "Dude" was by the authors of "Hair," that watershed rock festival that changed the minds of the country about what it wanted to look at and listen to. The challenge? The producers and authors of "Dude" made it plain by word and woodwind, by hammer and chisel, that they were out to restructure the contemporary theater in every conceivable way.
Let's take the restructuring first, since that is where the occasion's failure is most obvious and most immediate. The show had begun with the notion that the physical theater itself must be reshaped if the experiences we're going to have inside it are to take on a new and different life. To bring this about the [theatre] was torn apart and rebuilt…. (pp. 312-13)
What did it remind us of? A seedy carnival somewhere, anywhere. It looked exactly like the kind of one-ring circus that might be hustled out of baggage cars and hastily thrown together in any arena across the land. Since we already have an ample supply of just such arenas, one couldn't help wondering why so much money should have been spent to transform another kind of house into yet one more mini-Madison Square Garden.
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The progenies of "Hair" have not enjoyed a great track record. It is therefore all the more pleasant to report that the latest of that tribe, "Rainbow,"… is a distinct success. It has the style, manner and energy of "Hair," as well as its chaotic organization and its simplistic view of a far from simple world….
The musical is joyous and life-assertive. It is the first musical to derive from "Hair" that really seems to have the confidence of a new creation about it, largely derived from James Rado's sweet and fresh music and lyrics.
"Rainbow" almost literally takes off from where "Hair" ended. At the end of "Hair," Claude, the drafted dropout, is killed in Vietnam. In "Rainbow," someone called simply Man has been killed in Vietnam, and comes over the other side into Rainbow land….
The whole thing is great fun until for one horrid and unfortunate moment, the Brothers Rado feel impelled to introduce a conscience-struck note of political significance.
The Man, accompanied by his Rainbow Room of cronies, goes to Washington and there sees the President. "Why was I killed in Vietnam, Mr. President," he asks plaintively. Mr. President, a good guy at heart, replies: "If it was my fault, forgive me." Yes, well. But such lapses apart—and there aren't many—"Rainbow" really swings and pulses.
Perhaps the big surprise is provided by James Rado's music, which comes out...
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I was made seriously uncomfortable in the theater … last week … by a naive strain of what I suppose we've got to call triumphalism. That is to say, I was … asked to believe in much too easy a victory….
[A second act sequence in "Rainbow"], I am sorry to say, curdled my blood.
It came about this way. The first half of the entertainment began with the levitation of an American soldier freshly killed in Vietnam, while all about his flag-draped bier a group of non-mourners in curiously old-fashioned psychedelic robes, eye spangles, red hands and daubed foreheads sang him a welcome to their heavenly Radio Rainbeam show….
James Rado's songs … were enlivening, whatever their derivation…. Mr. Rado's lyrics weren't helping quite as much ("I got a song to sing to you / I got a song to sing to you / I got a song to sing to you / It's such a happy song") and the occasional jokes the composer had concocted with the help of brother Ted weren't helping at all (learning that the soldier's father had been a butcher, a homosexual asked, "Is he more butch than you are?"). But no matter. The show jumps.
Just before intermission, as a gesture toward "book" and a possible point to come, the group decided to take the gala they had been romping through down to Washington, D.C., where, if they could present it for the President, the Vietnam war would surely be brought to an end. Would you...
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["Rainbow"] is a brave little musical that makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in originality. (p. 13)
One gets the feeling that the show was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek backlash at the social and political structure of our present day society, for it does, somewhat feebly, try to poke fun at everything from God, religion, homosexuality, and the generation gap, to the President of the United States and the war in Vietnam. This basically has been its undoing, for in trying to be all things to all men, it succeeds only in becoming cluttered, confused, and lacking in direction.
The music, too, lacks originality running the gamut from old-fashioned revival meetings and musical sounds of the Roaring Twenties, to today's rock and roll and soulful funk. (pp. 13-14)
"Rainbow" has been called, in some circles, the most likely successor to "Hair." However, with forgettable music and a mish-mash of a plot, its aspirations as "Hair's" successor seem doomed. (p. 14)
Radcliffe Joe, "'Rainbow' Casts Shadow," in Billboard (© copyright 1973 by Billboard Publications, Inc.), Vol. 85, No. 3, January 20, 1973, pp. 13-14.
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Nothing ages worse than graffiti. "Hair," the hippie musical, was a raffish slogan scrawled in day-glow upon the institutional walls of the late 1960's.
Its message—liberation, joy, pot and multiform sex, the vision of youth as a social class of its own and, in short, the notion that there can be flowers without stalks, roots or muck to grow in has faded.
It is too far gone to be timely; too recently gone to be history or even nostalgia. Its revival has no particular occasion to it, and so it must stand or fall quite badly upon its own merits.
It falls, or rather it sags. Its virtues remain, but 10 years after its first appearance they look much feebler than they must have seemed at the time. Its glow is forced; its warmth becomes sentimentality and worse, sententiousness. Over and over one is reminded of the worst kind of religious art; the simpering or soulful hippies recall the simpering plaster virgins and soulful Christs sold around shrines.
Richard Eder, "Stage: Revived 'Hair' Shows Its Gray," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 6, 1977, p. C22.
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Why on earth should anyone have wished to bring back "Hair"? Surely not for any reason as simple as making money. No, I Fear that its producers believed in it and will perhaps not understand why its return amounts to an embarrassment. The novelties that proved attractive almost a decade ago—the easygoing, not to say fugitive, book, the informal relations between audience and cast, and the endearing (and never very erotic) nudity—have lost their power to move us. Except for two or three charming songs, what remains is a sort of cold dregs, which fail to give us even the sorry satisfaction of tasting bitter. It is simply there, poor "Hair,"… all feverishly abustle and all, alas, lifeless.
Brendan Gill, "In the Anteroom," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LIII, No. 35, October 17, 1977, P. 94.
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[When Hair! first appeared in 1967] it was carefree going indeed. True, there were weaknesses, but the show's flower children were in full bloom, the anti-war protest resonated endearingly….
By the time Hair was transferred to Broadway—stripped of most of its story line yet bloated and made vastly noisier, gimmicked and camped up by its clever but coarse new director, Tom O'Horgan—it lost most of its appeal. The chief new device was nudity—and what self-conscious and self-righteous nudity it was! Yet it succeeded, as souped-up versions of ingenuous little trouvailles hailed by the cognoscenti so often do. A decade later, the show is not yet a nostalgia-laden antique, but too late to startle anyone but the most backward and benighted.
John Simon, "Shaggy Dog," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1977 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 10, No. 43, October 24, 1977, p. 85.
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