BWW Interview: Jim Rado Talks Legacy of HAIR and What's New in the Current Tour
After unpredictable Texas winter weather, Austin is finally ready to Let the Sunshine In. Tony Award winning musical Hair will play Austin's Long Center tonight, March 4th, for one night only.
Hair follows a group of young, politically active hippies living and rebelling in 1960's New York City. This "tribe" fights against the Vietnam draft as they struggle to balance life, love, and a sexual revolution against their conservative parents and society. The rock opera premiered on Broadway in April 1968, running for 1,750 performances over four years. Hair opened on London's West End in September 1968, surpassing the Broadway run with 1,997 performances until its closure in 1973. The musical was revived on Broadway in March of 2009, and went on to win the 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The musical features well known hits such as Let the Sunshine In, Age of Aquarius, and the title song, Hair.
BroadwayWorld recently had a chance to catch up with Jim Rado, co-writer of Hair, to discuss the show's history, its groundbreaking contribution to musical theatre, and the revisions made for the current touring production...
BWW: I'm so excited to speak with you about "Hair". It's one of my favorites. I've been listening to the Original Broadway Cast Album since before I really understood what the show meant, so I'm thrilled that I get the chance to speak with you.
JR: That's great!
BWW: So I guess the best place to start is the beginning. What inspired you and Gerome Ragni to write Hair?
JR: What inspired us was what was going on around us. We were focused on theater ourselves. We became friends, and one of the things I wanted to do in life was write a musical, and that was a dream that I let lapse because I was mainly focused in acting and was kind of successful at it. But we were going to shows Off-Broadway at this experimental theater group called the Open Theatre. We were very serious about studying these new theater techniques for the actor and the playwright. And we became aware of what was going on around us in the streets. There protest marches in the village and in the parks. There was this manifestation of this new person called the Hippie. We found so much excitement in the real world that we felt wasn't experienced by your average theatergoing, Broadway audience. We thought that we could somehow take the excitement that we experienced ourselves, what we felt the Hippie thing was about, and that basic peace and love message that they were living and breathing, and bring that to the stage. We thought we could share our excitement and our experience, and I think we achieved that.
BWW: Are there any characters or situations in Hair that are inspired by real people?
JR: Well, the nude scene was inspired by a true event in the park. A couple of guys took off their clothes at one of the be-ins. It was an amazing moment of joy and liberation and surprise and wonder, really. It was really just about freedom. It was about total physical liberation. It was a huge, delightful moment that we knew we wanted to put in the show, and eventually we did.
BWW: When you and Ragni were writing, did you have any idea that what you were doing would be as groundbreaking as it was?
JR: Well, we hoped it might be. We knew about what musicals existed. I was very aware of the form of the musical, and I suddenly realized that we had something on our hands. With the way we were writing, we had an abundance of material. One of the elements that we used was the expanding of the score. Most musicals had 12 to 15 songs, and we wanted to have more than that. We expressed as much of the show in music and lyrics as possible, but we still had a book and we still had characters. We didn't want to make it all music. We wanted to have action and drama on stage as well.
BWW: Hair's gone through quite a few revisions from its initial Off-Broadway production to Broadway and beyond. Are there any particular scenes or songs that were at some point cut that you've felt always needed to be restored?
JR: That's exactly what we're doing with this version that's on tour now. Actually, there's a song from the original Off-Broadway production that we've restored as a plot point and for character development. It develops the central character of Claude, emphasizes his true nature and brings out various aspects of him. In the first act, he has a song about being from Manchester, England which of course is all part of his fantasy. In the second act, he now has this song that was cut from the Broadway show and should have been cut, but I think it will now work as a restored piece. I don't want to give too much away, but the song is called "Xzanaplanetooch." It's still in development since they're on the road, but I think it has the potential to really work like gangbusters. I've been working with the director on the concept of how it should be staged.
BWW: When Hair premiered on Broadway, it resonated with audiences, but critics were divided. And though the show won a very well-deserved Grammy Award for the cast album, it was relatively ignored by the Tony Awards. Were you surprised by the reception the show received, both by audiences and critics?
JR: Well, we were kind of bowled over. It was what we dreamed about. Every time we got a review that wasn't so glowing, we were a little disappointed, but we were more or less thrust into a state of, well, I don't know. We were overwhelmed. We wanted it to be a huge success. We wanted it to be a breakthrough. We wanted it to be fabulous and new both in form and in content. And it clicked. The New York Times's Clive Barnes raved about it. He really became a champion of it.
BWW: Are you at all surprised by the staying power that Hair has seen in the past 46 years?
JR: Yes, because in the 1970s, it kind of faded from view. It didn't play that often. The time was just different, and the pendulum had swung the other way. I thought, "Well, ?Hair ?has had its day," but gradually, in the 1980s, ?Hair ?started to come back. There was suddenly a European tour, and there was a resurgence in other countries, although there was never a Broadway revival until 2009. But Encores! did do a revival in 2001.
BWW: Yes! And the Actor's Fund did a concert of it as well.
?JR: Yes. So all of the sudden, there was this interest in ?Hair ?again. In fact, with the Encores! production, there were people who wanted to move it to Broadway, but I didn't think it was exactly right, so I said no to that. The Actor's Fund version was a very interesting evening. But it wasn't until 2008 when the Public Theater approached us again with the idea of a revival.
BWW: Between the subject matter, nudity, and rock music, Hair was completely different from other musicals of the 1960s and paved the way for countless other shows. Are there any that have come since that you think are as groundbreaking or important as Hair?
JR: Well, they went in a different direction, but I feel like ?A Chorus Line ?is kind of a spin-off of ?Hair?. In ?Hair?, instead of a chorus we have a Tribe, and we really tried to make the Tribe come alive. I think Michael Bennett was influenced by that in a way. The Tribe became the Chorus Line, and they all stood on that line and were very disciplined. I feel like it kind of was a version of ?Hair ?in the way it was a true-life story of this group of people. And of course ?Rent ?was one of the most successful shows that was sort of derived from ?Hair.?
BWW: Let's talk a bit about the production that will be coming to Austin on March 4th. What has it been like to work as a collaborator on this touring production?
JR: It's been an interesting trip. The script that was done on Broadway for the revival was very good, but there were some things that I felt could be improved upon. So I went over the material with the director of the current tour, and he understood what I was getting at. He'd give me the go ahead of "Oh, I like this. I like that," and I'd adjust the script. He was very sypmatico about the process, and I felt like this was something I wanted to do anyway.
BWW: Does that mean you've written new material for this particular production?
?JR: Yes, there are a few new things in here and there. The situations are the same, but there's some new dialogue.
BWW: Interesting! That's great that it's a bit of a mix of the old and new.
?JR: Yes, but it's all based on the original.
BWW: I've heard that this production "goes back to its grittier roots." Are there any elements that you think might surprise audiences?
JR: Well, I think it's pretty authentic to what Hair was originally. I'm always emphasizing the reality of it all. The first thing that we establish is that it's specifically New York City. It's specifically October, 1967, and this all really happened. Even though the story is made up, these people or these types of people really existed, and this moment in history happened.
BWW: Do you have any last comments for BroadwayWorld readers?
JR: ?Hair ?needs to keep on growing. The next manifestation will be at the Hollywood Bowl this summer, and that will be very exciting. They are doing the entire show with the LA Philharmonic. I, at first, thought it was going to just be a concert, but I will be giving them this new script and seeing where it all leads.
BWW: Well thank you so much for your time. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, and I can't wait to see this new version of "Hair"!
Hair is for mature audiences only, includes some frontal nudity.
Tickets are available at TheLongCenter.org or by calling (512) 474.LONG (5664). Also available at the Long Center's 3M Box Office located at 701 West Riverside Drive at South First Street. For groups of 10 and more, call 512-457-5161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.