The musical that revolutionised Broadway

Marcia Hines was a huge star in Australia the 70s, with a string of hit songs. Source: YouTube/RoyGardnerra

In 1967, the razzamatazz of Broadway and the reality of head-banded, bead-wearing hirsute youth were worlds apart, so when two infrequently employed actors/authors and lyric writers James Rado and Jerome Ragni walked into the office of well-known jazz critic and music publisher, Nat Shapiro, carrying a briefcase filled with notes and drawings on brown paper bags, napkins and old envelopes, this was the first sighting of their draft for Hair.

Hair was a musical about a tribe of contemporary young people. With the prospect of being sent to Vietnam, the pot-smoking group burned their draft cards and enjoyed sexual role playing.

Rado and Ragni were introduced to melody manufacturer Gait macDermot and four days later the show was ready to be staged.

Although the show caught the tail end of ‘The Summer Of Love’ on October 17, 1967 when it was staged in downtown New York, but the timing was exactly right.

The show might have been over had it not been for the intervention of Chicago millionaire Michael Butler who encouraged the writers to make a substantial revision to broaden the musical’s scope.

Ad. Article continues below.

When the new improved Hair opened on Broadway the following April, the United States was experiencing its most divided, fractious times since the Civil War and the voice of counterculture came to mainstream musical theatre.

The musical revolutionised Broadway and alerted musical theatre that rock music could be successful on stage given the chance.

The creators held nothing back in the show, featuring full frontal nudity and profanities never before seen on Broadway. Song topics were also deliberately provocative, ‘Coloured Spade’; ‘Hashish’; ‘Sodomy’. There were an unusually high number of songs in the show the most famous of which was ‘Aquarius’, a huge hit for The Fifth Dimension and the litany-like ‘Ain’t Got No’ a hit for Nina Simone.

In 1969, Hair came to Australia and many young black Americans came over to take part in the production although one snuck in under the age of 18 and became a musical diva and future Queen of Pop in her adopted country, Marcia Hines.

As events would reveal very few of the kids who took part in the Hair odyssey were a perfectly prepared as Hines. She may have been young but she knew exactly what she wanted and was determinedly focused to make the most of whatever Australia had to offer.

Ad. Article continues below.

In the orchestra pit for the first production of Hair in Sydney was avant-garde rock band Tully. Tully were a unique band of experienced musicians who like their contemporaries Tamum Shud and combined disparate influences including pop, R&B, soul, modern jazz, classical, folk, and psychedelic rock.

If Hair had caused controversy in England and the US, in Australia antagonism to the Vietnam War in the show’s script was intolerable to some communities and public emotions ran high.

It challenged every aspect of conventional Australian ideals.

The man most enthusiastically blazing the trail for Hair in Australia was Harry M. Miller who moved mountains to finally get the show on stage on June 5, 1969 at the Metro Theatre at Kings Cross in Sydney.

The opening night was determined as it had been all around the world by the show’s official astrologist who checked the alignment of the stars and the moon to find the most advantageous launch date. The astrologist obviously did not look at the weather patterns because it poured down with rain as guests arrived wearing everything from ball gowns to military uniforms and feathers.

Ad. Article continues below.

The police even turned up to search for a bomb tip-off, but it turned out to be a hoax.

Have you seen the musical Hair? What did you think? Are you interested in musicals?

Keen to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60 here, and join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club on Facebook here to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60.