The Story Behind The Story

James Rado is at the heart and root of the origin.  In his early teens he knew what he wanted to do, his dream, to write a Broadway musical.  He had become a fan of the genre, and he made first stabs at writing one.  In college he majored in Speech & Drama and became a songwriter.  He co-authored 2 musical shows at the University of Maryland: "INTERLUDE" and, a year later, "INTERLUDE 2."  After graduation, followed by two years in the U.S.Navy, he returned to school in Washington, D.C. for graduate work at Catholic University, where he co-authored a musical revue called "CROSS YOUR FINGERS."  He wrote the lyrics and music for all his songs.  He moved to New York City, but it would be another 10 years before he would write a fourth musical for the stage.  (During that intervening decade, besides holding down a "make-a-living" job, he wrote pop songs and recorded his own band, known as "James Alexander and the Argyles," and he began to study acting in earnest.)  Upon meeting Gerome Ragni, he saw some of Jerry's poetic writings and asked him to collaborate on a new show.  They began a voluminous creation.  One day they were in the Whitney Museum of Art on Madison Avenue, going from painting to painting, when they came upon a rather unique one by an American artist, Jim Dine.  Looking to see the name of it,  Jim Rado said to Jerry Ragni, "What an odd title for a painting...Hair."  Several months later they found that title most apropos for the show they were writing about hippiedom and the troubles of America.   

HAIR's world debut was in New York City in October 1967, off-Broadway, on the heels of the Summer of Love. Jerry and I had written HAIR for the uptown big theatre audiences. It was designed to invade Broadway territory, but we couldn't get a tumble from any of the Broadway producers. "Not our cup of tea," they would say. We retreated from our firm intention, in response to an offer of a 6-week run for HAIR as the opening attraction at a new theater. The old Astor Library, gutted and under fresh construction, became The New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater, and the producer Joseph Papp chose HAIR to be the premiere presentation in his experimental space, the Anspacher Theater. (Papp had produced free Shakespeare in Central Park for years, but was now branching out, to embrace the excitement of the avant garde theater movement.) Quite a wonderful opportunity, we thought; if we couldn't get HAIR on-Broadway, at least we could jump-start it downtown in the Joseph Papp spotlight of a new New York theater, in the East Village at that, where the play itself was set. As directed by Gerald Freedman, with choreography by Anna Sokolow, the "Public" proved to be a perfect "out-of-town tryout."

A Guy, a Kid and a Cat

A guy from Washington, D.C. (James Rado) and a kid from Pittsburgh. Pa. (Gerome Ragni) met in New York City when they were cast together in a new off-Broadway endeavor, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD AND DIE, a musical revue whose theme was Capital Punishment. Following the shortest run in show biz (one night), the two young men continued their friendship and soon set out to write their own show, a musical they entitled HAIR. The two became three when they joined up with a cat from Montreal, Canada (Galt MacDermot) who had settled into the New York area to live and who set their songs to music.

HAIR was created as an original idea by Gerome Ragni (Jerry) and, myself, James Rado (Jim). We collaborated on the story, text, characters, dialogue and lyrics beginning in late 1964, continuing over the years 1965, 1966 and 1967. From the start, I envisioned that the score of HAIR would be something new for Broadway, a kind of pop rock/showtune hybrid. At first we had considerable difficulty finding a composer; we rejected several, until finally, in late 1966, we found the man to make the music for our songs. It was a case of love at first sound. Meeting the composer, Galt MacDermot, was more than a fulfillment of our dream. I would call it a clear illustration of a marriage made in heaven.

The show opened at the Public Theater and began to stir some excitement, earning largely favorable reviews, with a great one from Clive Barnes (who had some reservations mixed in with his praise), lead critic of the New York Times. Downtown (even without the "nude scene") HAIR proved to be a very warm ticket.

But after a 6-week run, Joseph Papp was done with it. He really didn't envision the future for it that the authors did. He had to get on with his successive productions, each one to run 6 weeks. Besides, no show had ever gone from off-Broadway to Broadway before.  Still Jerry and I were determined and knew that somehow, some way, we would find someone who would be able to help us move it uptown to the George M. Cohan Great White Way.  Sure enough, a man from Chicago, Michael Butler, had caught a performance of HAIR at the Public.  He was attracted to it by the Public Theater poster with the picture of five American Indians on it. He thought HAIR would be about Native Americans, a subject he was interested in.  He didn't know the show was about hippiehood, but he took it in and liked it so much that, although he had never been a producer of theatricals before, expressed the desire to move the Public Theater production to the Cheetah Discotheque in midtown Manhattan.  We liked the would get us geographically closer to Broadway.  The 3 of us gave him the rights to produce HAIR at Cheetah. This was a direct transfer of the Public Theater production, except that it had to start at an unorthodox curtain time of 7:30pm (B'way was 8:30 in those days), and it had to play without an intermission, straight through, so the disco-dancing could begin at 10pm.  Barbra Streisand and Otto Preminger, the famous movie director,  were among a hefty list of celebrities who now visited the Cheetah to see HAIR.  I was ouside the performance area and witnessed Preminger  leaving the show early, huffing and puffing through the lobby, with "I want an intermission, I want an intermission!"  When that engagement  finally lumbered to a close, Jerry, Galt and I had an adventurous plan. Based on what we saw on the Public Theater and Cheetah stages, Jerry and I had rewritten the text, and, with Galt, had added 13 new songs, expanding the score from 20 to 33 numbers. At first, Butler wanted to move the production from the Cheetah, as is, to a Broadway theater. But he soon found out how determined Jerry and I were. We wanted a new director whom we had chosen, Tom O'Horgan. We wanted casting to be done all over again. We wanted new designers, and, most assuredly, we wanted the rewritten, restructured, expanded script of HAIR to be done. Mr. Butler, a first-time producer, walked away from our proposal, probably figuring it would be too expensive for one thing. We started peddling the new script to uptown producers again, and a week later Michael called us to say he was agreeable to the new re-conceptualization.

Working with Tom O'Horgan, and a new choreographer, Julie Arenal, and what was largely a new Tribe of actors (six people from the off-Broadway production made it to Broadway: Paul Jabara, Sally Eaton, Shelley Plimpton, Linda Compton, Suzannah Norstrand and Gerome Ragni), we installed and experimented with the new script of  HAIR.  Tom used various "sensitivity exercises," some of which had been developed by the Chicagoan Viola Spolin, and some Open Theater techniques were employed as well.  The Tribe was taught how and encouraged to work organically with us on the material.  It was a very exciting, smooth-going, yet tumultuous, rehearsal process.  We opened at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968 (6 months after off-Broadway), and Clive Barnes, who had some reservations about the off-Broadway version, raved about our transformative work, which was hugely gratifying. For the most part, the critics hurrahed. HAIR was a hit!

HAIR has played pretty much continuously ever since its opening at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre on West 47th Street. It was translated into many languages and produced around the world, from Japan and Australia to South & Central America, from Europe to Israel. Once the initial popularity waned, it seemed for a spell that HAIR was not an especially viable commodity; there was a major slump of interest in it from around the mid 1970s into the early 80s, to my recollection. But then, in the mid-80s, a new interest arose which took hold and grew.

Since then the show has received many major presentations in foreign countries, as well as amateur, stock, and university productions in the U.S. It has been very popular again in Australia, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France, Italy, Japan, and, since the Wall came tumbling down, travelled for the first time to Poland, Lebanon, the Czech Republic, and Sarajevo (featured on ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel, when Phil Alden Robinson visited that battle-torn country and discovered a powerful production of HAIR there in the midst of the war). Curiously, HAIR has not been revived to any acclaim on a large scale in the U.S.A. where it was born. Hopefully the new Broadway production (February 2009) will fill that void.

HAIR has played many places around this globe we call Earth and the Russians call Mir. (In the Russian language, "Mir" means "Peace", as well as being the name for our planet.) Where has HAIR never played?: China, India, Vietnam, the Arctic and Antarctic continents as well as most African countries. With the passing of apartheid, HAIR finally made it to South Africa in the mid-1990s, after being banned for all the previous years. It opened to great excitement and was acclaimed. I read the reviews and marveled.

In 1988, in a benefit for kids with AIDS, HAIR celebrated its twentieth anniversary in the United Nations General Assembly Hall with a cast of tribe alumni numbering 200. Among other highlights of that event, Melba Moore sang "Easy To Be Hard", Bea Arthur sang "Black Boys" and Nell Carter sang "White Boys". The master of ceremonies was Barbara Walters. Go figure.

HAIR was one of the first shows to move from off- to on-Broadway.

HAIR was the FIRST ROCK MUSICAL! Although it had received generally good critical notices off-Broadway, at the Biltmore Theater it got almost unanimous raves, with Clive Barnes of the New York Times championing it all the way. Some people hated HAIR. Some theater insiders were jealous of it. The rewritten, restructured, expanded HAIR hit Broadway with a bang on April 29, 1968 and became an instantaneous phenomenon. Everyone had to see HAIR. All the celebrities came. Rudolf Nureyev was one of the most elegant, from that other world of Russian ballet, and he became a friend to Jerry and me (even invited us to his home in London for a late supper after seeing a show together in the West End and meeting afterwards by happenchance). Carol Channing came backstage after she saw the show and thanked Paul Jabara for his impersonation of her in the Mom-Dad Scene, which he did every night. She said to Paul: "I loved your impersonation of Bette Davis!" Janis Joplin was a big fan and came on numerous occasions with groups of her friends. They would sit down front and rock out. About six months after the Broadway opening, a new company was formed in Los Angeles, produced by Michael Butler and the Smothers Brothers. Jerry and I left the New York cast and joined the L.A. Tribe for another 6 months as Berger and Claude. (When we left the, Ben Vereen replaced Jerry and Teddy Neeley replaced me.) Los Angeles never had a musical run longer than several weeks, but HAIR settled down into the Aquarius Theater there for a 2-year run. One Sunday matinee, Mae West came to the show and said to me: "My, you boys certainly have a lot of energy!"

On Broadway, the show ran 4 years at the Biltmore Theatre, and in London 5 years at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End. Zsa Zsa Gabor came to the London opening night. After the show, she had come up on stage to be interviewed for TV. Referring to what she had just seen, she said: "This is not acting!" From the wings was heard the voice of HAIR's Executive Producer, Bertrand Castelli (who hailed from the island of Corsica).  He cried out, in response to Ms. Gabor: "What do you know about acting?" (I think, intuitively, she knew a lot about acting. The people in HAIR were NOT acting...they kind of lived their parts.) Bertrand emerged from the wings into full view; he and Zsa Zsa went at it, in their  respective Corsican and Hungarian accents, squabbling in front of the live audience and into the TV cameras, out across all of England.  Everyone was glued to the moment.  Zsa Zsa got up from her chair, leaving in a tizzy, and she fell down the center steps into the orchestra seats. She was caught by some of the Tribe.  Others of the Tribe rushed to her side.  Then, they lifted her into the air and carried her above their heads up the aisle and out, chanting: "We love you Zsa Zsa...we love you Zsa Zsa..."

Eventually -- and this was unheard of -- in addition to the Broadway production, there were 9 other sit-down companies in 9 U.S. cities, all produced by Michael Butler and associates. The talent was recruited from each city: The show played simultaneously in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, etc., plus , later, there were a couple of national tours. Butler joined with Robert Stigwood to produced the show in London, England, after which it was off and running as an international smash hit.

That original production was thrilling to behold thanks to the artistry of the director Tom O'Horgan, choreographer Julie Arenal, lightning designer Jules Fisher, set designer Robin Wagner, and the mighty costumes of Nancy Potts. That was just the backstage talent. What was on stage were these incredible, mischievous, funny, singing, dancing, throbbing, screaming, crying angels (N.Y.Times critic Clive Barnes described them as "peppy protons")... the TRIBE... the beautiful TRIBERS... who embodied the story... the terrible/wonderful tale of the world at war and revolution. They lived it to the point where they became it... and the audience knew they were looking at the real thing.

HAIR was a theatrical breakthrough in many ways. It was the first show with a truly integrated cast. It had the hypnotic aura of a miracle about it. Everyone connected to it felt it. My mother was so enthralled with her son singing "Where Do I Go" at the end of Act I, she didn't even see the nude scene that accompanied it.. Can you say YOU were there!? Fortunately, I can. As the old Shake 'n' Bake commercial said: "And I helped!"

We did a second album of Songs Omitted from the Stage Production, called DISINHAIRITED. It was really fine. Galt outdid himself on those arrangements! I will be exploring the possibility of making DISINHAIRITED available on CD through this website soon. For now you can go to Cast Albums website.

We are working on making available two new CD's: AMERICAN SOLDIER with Lyrics & Music by James Rado, and the Book co-authored by James Rado & his brother Theodore Omski. And a 3-CD complete SUN/Audio Movie, scenes included, acted by Jerry and Jim, sung by numerous gifted friends, music by Steve Margoshes, book and lyrics by Rado and Ragni. Hopefully, coming soon to this website.

This Website is dedicated to my wonderful family and friends as well as to the loving Ragni family and to the living memory of Jerry Ragni who died in 1991.

James Rado February 14, 2009

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