Hair was both the first Broadway show to include total male and female nudity and one of the first to address the conflict between young counterculture rebels and the 1960’s establishment. The show encountered such strong opposition in many cities that an extra scene was added in which actors disguised as policemen entered the auditorium and interrupted the performance by pretending to arrest audience members.
In Boston and Chattanooga local and state authorities succeeded in stopping the productions for a time, until the U.S. Supreme Court overruled these actions, citing the chilling effect on free expression that such bans would have. Outside the United States, reactions to Hair were mixed. In Mexico City, for example, the production was closed after a single performance, and non-Mexican cast members were expelled from the country. The play’s premiere in London coincided with Parliament’s abolition of the office of Lord Chamberlain—who had licensed stage plays in England—and passage of the 1968 Theatres Act, which limited criminal prosecution of dramatic works based on content. The musical also encountered controversial receptions in Japan, Argentina, Scandinavia, France, and Germany.
Hair’s adaptation to the screen had to wait more than a decade. By the time that director Milos Forman’s film version appeared in 1979, the nudity and subject matter of the original play had lost much of their shock value. Michael Weller’s screenplay gave the film a new narrative storyline, built around a young Midwesterner (John Savage) who hangs out with a hippie band living in Central Park when he comes to Manhattan to be inducted into the army.