HAIR’s 50th Anniversary celebration continues! After a successful Off-Broadway run, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical premiered on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968. In this piece written specially for Tams-Witmark, the musical’s co-creator (and original co-star) James Rado takes a look back at the groundbreaking show’s beginnings.
Since my early teens, my daydream was to create a Broadway musical. I taught myself how to write lyrics by intensely studying the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter and so many others, and the popular music of the 1930s through the 1960s. As a young man, I attempted to write THE DREAM OF MARY DAISY and another, THE GREAT HORROR OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. In college, besides acting in many plays, I wrote the music & lyrics for two shows: INTERLUDE (at University of Maryland) and CROSS YOUR FINGERS (at Catholic University of America).
Following a two-year gig in the U.S. Navy, in 1956 I moved to New York City to be an actor. But it wasn’t until seven years later, 1963, that I got my first Broadway break when the famous director and teacher Lee Strasberg plucked me from an acting class for a small part in June Havoc’s MARATHON ’33, starring Julie Harris. This led to a string of acting roles. One show in particular, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD AND DIE, is where I met fellow actor Gerome Ragni.
Ragni and I became fast friends and I told him of my dream of creating a Broadway musical. I then proposed we team up to write a show about the hippies and the anti-war movement, which was happening all around us. He came aboard with some of his exciting experimental poetry, his own brand of homespun humor, and a potent theatrical imagination.
In 1966, in the midst of writing HAIR, I was cast in the leading role of Richard the Lionhearted in the James Goldman play THE LION IN WINTER, starring Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walker.
By 1967, three years from the first idea to collaborate, Ragni and I had a presentable text called HAIR. No one wanted to produce it… until a chance meeting. On a train back to New York from an acting gig at Yale University, Gerome Ragni sat across from another passenger – the famous Shakespearean producer Joseph Papp. Ragni handed Papp the HAIR script. Papp liked what he read and called the ‘creative trio’ into his office to hear the score. By now, Galt MacDermot was well into composing the music for our lyrics. With Galt at the piano, Ragni and I sang our songs.
Papp decided to open his newly-founded New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater with HAIR. On October 17, 1967, our show first saw the light of the stage. Directed by Gerald Freedman, it ran for eight weeks and then got transferred to the Cheetah nightclub-discotheque for a month. It got shut down to make way for a reconceived production with thirteen new songs, and with direction by Tom O’Horgan.
It opened on Broadway on April 29, 1968. I played Claude and Ragni played Berger. The rest is theatrical history.
HAIR is available for licensing exclusively through Tams-Witmark. For more information, visit the HAIR show page.