HAIR (subtitled The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical) was created by the three gentlemen pictured here, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot and James Rado.
Studying acting with Uta Hagen and with Paula and Lee Strasberg, Jim Rado was also an aspiring pop/show songwriter. His songs had been heard on the stage in college reviews. Jerry Ragni, besides being an actor, was a painter and poet and belonged to an experimental group called The Open Theater. He, in fact, coined its name. He brought Jim downtown into this theatrical laboratory. (Before they knew each other, both Jim and Jerry had been on Broadway; Jim had originated the role of Richard the Lionhearted in THE LION IN WINTER by William Goldman, starring Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, and Jerry had been in the Richard Burton HAMLET directed by John Gielgud.) After an extraordinarily brief run of "HANG DOWN" (one night), they auditioned for the Chicago company of the Mike Nichols production of THE KNACK, by Ann Jellicoe, and got the parts of Tom and Tolan, becoming a kind of acting duo, directed by Brian Bedford. Claudia Cassidy, the Chicago critic, gave Jerry's performance as Tom a rave. In fact, the entire review was largely about Jerry, describing his originality as an essence on the stage. Gerome Ragni was truly unique and genuinely comic. Audiences couldn't help but laugh at his inventive behavior, his manner and voice.
In Chicago, during the popular KNACK run, Jerry and Jim were already at work on their new show. They had been drawn into the emerging hippie atmosphere of New York's East Village, and wherever they had to travel in their acting careers, the writing continued. They were inspired by the passions of the anti-war protesters in the city streets and identified strongly with the movements for liberation. Employing experimental theater methods as a jumping-off place, they explored the form of the American musical. (Musicals up to that time had scores of approximately 12 to 15 numbers. HAIR had 20 at the early stage of its development, off-Broadway. As consciousness expanded, so did the score. By the time HAIR hit Broadway, it contained 33 songs.)
From the start, the authors envisioned HAIR for Broadway and mainstream audiences. As they completed the manuscript, they realized what they needed next -- a composer to set their songs to music -- before they could get a producer to put the show on the boards. They tried a couple of tunesmiths, but to no avail. Through a mutual friend, Isabelle Blau, they were led to Nat Shapiro and to Galt MacDermot. Galt had already had a pop hit in England of an instrumental he wrote called "African Waltz." When Jim and Jerry heard the first of their lyrics set to music by Galt, they knew they had found a match. The songs ignited. Galt composed a large chunk of the score for HAIR in about 3 weeks, completing the rest of it within 3 months. Nat Shapiro became their Manager and took the score to RCA Records.
Several Broadway producers were approached, most notably David Merrick and Robert Whitehead. Mr. Merrick rejected HAIR, Mr. W. said "not my cup of tea."
Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, produced free Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for quite a few years, and, in 1967, was planning to open a new theater complex in the East Village, to be named The Public Theater. He wanted to extend his reach, to produce new plays, beyond the cannon of Shakespeare. He taught a class at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. At the same time, Jerry Ragni was in a play at Yale, the Open Theater production of Megan Terry's VIETROCK. On a fateful train ride back to New York City, Jerry encountered Joe and handed him the script of HAIR. (It had been bound by Studio Duplicating in a soft yellow cover with the title in gold letters. Jim said, "I always loved the magical look of that binding.") Joe Papp asked to keep the script, and a couple of days later, the authors got a call from Mr. Papp's office saying he was interested in the show. With Galt at the piano, Jerry and Jim sang the score of HAIR for Joe in his new Lafayette Street office. In the meantime, Jim had won the lead in a new Broadway musical HALLELUJAH BABY opposite Leslie Uggams. His picture appeared in the New York Post announcing his sudden elevation to "stardom." But Jim found himself at a decisive crossroad and he had to turn down the part, because Joseph Papp had chosen HAIR to be the Public Theater's opening attraction. HAIR was the first play Joe produced other than Shakespeare.
At the Anspacher Theater, the first of three theaters to open within the Public Theater, HAIR premiered in the off-Broadway category on October 18, 1967. The musical itself was set in October, 1967. It was very much a play of the present.