Over fifty years since its first production at the Public Theater in New York City, Hair remains shocking and well ahead of its time. As I have learned more and more about this musical poem, I have come to find that its resonance and strength may actually equal or even surpass the rhetorical power it earned in 1967. No question, we live in an era of great sensitivity, of nerves about language and rapidly shifting conceptions of what it means to be politically and socially correct. At the same time, we all recognize a zeitgeist of anger, where vitriolic spewing of grievances is commonplace and dangerously acceptable. “Yelling” at someone on Twitter is our decidedly passive new form of activism.
With that as my anxiety-inspiring call to arms, I decided to relook at the play that essentially invented the genre of “rock musical.” Murray Ross suggested it to me years ago, long before I became a visiting scholar at the theatre in which it was created. Over the past decade, Hair has taken on an even more acute resonance, and with my discouragement about the degeneration of civil discourse, love, and compassion, 2020 felt like the perfect time to revisit our happy tribe of New York hippies.
Hair has almost universal name recognition, and virtually no one alive in the 60s and 70s struggles to sing along with The Age of Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine or Let the Sunshine In. What we forget, and where Hair is oddly refreshing, is how the musical is still wildly controversial. There are scenes here that have not ceased to shock and, I think, have become even more difficult to stomach, since they reinforce how little has changed in fifty years. And no, the sensationalized and over-discussed nude scene is not one of them. Rather, frank looks at troubling American political decision making, religious intolerance and our odious history of racial inequality and stereotyping, is what is on full display in Hair. These scenes are hard. Really hard, as the language and imagery is deliberately crude. Indeed, we will offer director-led small discussions in the lobby after each show, for those who want to know more or to decompress.
But have no fear, Hair is here for us today to celebrate and reaffirm the power of love and optimism, to show that we can accept our faults and ambivalences alongside our beauty and brilliance. Just when things get really dark, when there seems no hope, we look up to the heavens and joyously see that the sun is shining in.
on behalf of the directing and design team.