September 12, 2008

Hair Today: Anti-War Show is Back in Style As It Returns to Broadway Revival for Hippie Musical That Shocked in the 1970s


THE Age of Aquarius will dawn once more on Broadway as cult musical Hair returns to its roots.

In the latest revival of a classic of years gone by, the show is about to go home to the legendary US theatre district where it first wowed audiences 40 years ago.

Its then-shocking nudity and anti-establishment theme sparked outrage, and later shows in the UK were possible only because of a change in censorship laws the day before its opening.

The intervening years have made it far less controversial, but organisers say its appeal endures. In Scotland, where the legendary show drew crowds of more than 200,000 in 1970, theatres said that musicals were enjoying a resurgence.

Announcing the decision to move the current New York Public Theatre Central Park production to Broadway in the new year, the theatre's artistic director Oskar Eustis said yesterday: "The success of Hair has been thrilling, proving that this show speaks as powerfully today as it did 40 years ago. We are moving the show indoors, but the celebratory joy of this production will remain intact."

Written by out-of-work actors Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot, Hair had its world premiere at the Public Theatre in 1967 before transferring to Broadway the following year.

Dubbed "The American tribal love-rock musical", it caused shockwaves with its tale of a young man in New York, threatened with conscription to Vietnam, urged by his friends to rebel.

Its anti-war, pro-sex-anddrugs message was deemed so immoral at the time that the official British theatre censor reportedly condemned it for "extolling dirt, anti-establishment views, free love, drug-taking, homosexuality and inveighing against patriotism".

But the day before the show moved to the West End in September 1968, the new Theatres Act was brought in, ending powers of stage censorship dating back centuries.

Celebrating British audiences flocked to see the production at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it ran for five years with just under 2000 performances, more than the estimated 1800 that took place on Broadway. Elaine Paige and Paul Nicholas were among the British stars who got their big break in the London show.

Fans in Scotland got the chance to see Hair when theatre boss Jimmy Logan convinced its producer James Verner to bring it to his Glasgow theatre in 1970.

More than 200,000 people crowded into Jimmy Logan's Metropole Theatre in the St George's Cross area of the city during the 10- month run.

An amateur production at the Pavilion in 1994 was among several attempts over the year by enthusiasts and professionals o revive the show.

Duncan May, of Glasgow's King's Theatre and Theatre Royal, believes the time might be right now. He said:

"Something that there was a lot of interest in a long time ago is maybe ready for a revival. We have got Evita at the moment, which goes back to the late 1970s. It is the first time that the show has been at the King's in 13 years and it's proving to be extremely popular."

He added: "A revival of Hair after so many years is distinct from something like Carousel, which comes around on a regular basis."

A spokeswoman for the Festival City Theatres Trust, which runs the King's Theatre and Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, said: "There is always an audience for the classics.

"We have had Hello Dolly and Aspects of Love, which has had a mini revival. I think they go through phases. People are used to seeing them on TV so they regain a bit of popularity."

The production of Hair transforming to Broadway has been so successful that the Public Theatre extended its summer run twice. It is due to end on Sunday.

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Head starts

Paul Nicholas Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Vince in the BBC sitcom Just Good Friends, the English actor and singer first found success in musicals in the UK after landing the leading role of Claude in the London production of Hair.

Elaine Paige The woman now known as the first lady of British musical theatre made her West End debut in Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1969, going on to land a string of roles including Eva Peron in the award-winning original production of Evita in 1978 .

Floella Benjamin A part in Hair also put this actress on the path to success, which led to her becoming a popular children's TV presenter on shows such as Play School and Play Away.

Tim Curry (top) and Richard O'Brien It was on the set of the London production of Hair that Tim Curry met Richard O'Brien, who joined the cast the year after Curry in 1969. The pair went on to collaborate on another cult musical, The Rocky Horror Show.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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