Sunday, March 26, 2017

Original Broadway Cast Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical


   In the history of musical theatre, projects winning best position were always connected with some historical changes or social issues. In fact this refers to any work of art especially when it’s a narrative one. The tension between political or economical processes and particular moment in the life of a hero is the energy moving storytelling from oldest times. When in short period of time and on one stage takes place whole story, with music, acting and dance, whole production needs to be concentrated – the stage works as a focusing lens. With this presumption we need to take into account also artistic qualities, good music, sense of humor and breathtaking dance scenes. Commercial success was always connected with various factors, but most efficient was its impact and popularity. Phonographic recordings played significant role as a step to wide promotion of any work. During first decades such albums were main step outside the Broadway to any place where music has a chance to find new listeners. Not only blockbusters were released as musical recordings. For those with higher budget LP records or CD albums were sometimes a second chance to find its way to listeners.
   Every period has its stories, songs and hit musicals. When there is such need it could be more conservative, in other moments radical or even revolutionary. Music, arts and letters were always synchronous with deep needs of at least some significant part of the society. In second half of 1960’s postwar stability for great part of society was seen as no longer a value. Young, well educated Americans perceived it as a stagnation atoned with unacceptable price of deaths in Vietnam and social inequality. Rebellious behavior and riots were side-effect of young counterculture. In couple years young minority became power enough significant to reshape official culture. This process was background for probably most ambitious musical project of the era. Breaking many taboos Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical became famous as the voice of young Americans in late sixties.

Hair • The Original Broadway Cast Recording (1968)

   The power of Hair is in its creation of collective hero. The idea of the story was developed by Gerome Ragni and James Rado using method described as “non-book” and based on free notes and snippets as base for creation series of stage situations like pagan rituals, happenings, street demonstrations, theatrical equivalent of human be-in and scandalous performances. In many parts this non-book script has references to works by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, with famous citation “What a Piece of Work Is Man” from Hamlet (Act II, scene 2). After many rejections from Broadway producers, Ragni and Rado found support from Joseph Papp who had choose this work to opening run for his Public Theatre. Premiere took place in October 17, 1967. This was also first non-Shakespearean venture by Papp who was New York Shakespeare Festival founder. Second off-Broadway production was Cheetah stage in December 1967. Both were enough successful to be continued in Broadway.
   For Broadway stage authors made some changes, adding final song Let The Sun Shine In (yet another reference to Hamlet). Nonetheless Papp decided to drop his support for this production. Opened in April 1968 Hair stage had 1 750 performances and pave the way for international recognition of this musical. The same year London West End stage of Hair had 1 997 performances and the consequence of this success were dozens of productions all over the world. In 1979 United Artists premiered film adaptation of the musical directed by Milos Forman. This moment became one of highest achievements in history of musical movies, although only stars were actresses playing the role of Sheila Franklin – Diane Keaton in Broadway cast and Beverly D’Angelo in the movie. Original Broadway cast recording had sold in three millions of copies. The record published by RCA Victor label became great success and was charted on 1st position of Billboard 200. Considerig its position in the era, the album along with others recordings is worth to remember, significant document of its time.