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HAIR Co-Creator James Rado Dies at 90

Rado wrote the book and lyrics for Hair, along with the late Gerome Ragni.

HAIR Co-Creator James Rado Dies at 90

James Rado, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning sole surviving co-creator of the ground-breaking Broadway musical HAIR - The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, died peacefully Tuesday evening, June 21, 2022 in New York City surrounded by his loving family. The cause was Cardio Respiratory Arrest (not Covid related) announced his longtime friend, publicist Merle Frimark. He was 90 years old.

It was Rado who, along with the late Gerome Ragni, wrote the book and lyrics for HAIR the landmark musical that changed the face of the American musical theatre when it opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968.

Born an Aquarius in Venice, CA on January 23, 1932, James Alexander Radomski grew up in Rochester, New York and Washington, DC, along with his brother Ted and late beloved sister Charlotte. He resided in Hoboken, NJ until his death.

His daydream, since he was a teenager, was to write a Broadway musical. He taught himself how to write lyrics from intense study of the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter and others, as well as pop music from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. In college, he wrote the music and lyrics for two shows: Interlude at the University of Maryland and Cross Your Fingers at the Catholic University of America.

After a two-year gig in the U.S. Navy, Rado moved to New York in 1956 to be an actor. In the early 60s he formed a singing group, James and the Argyles. He wrote all the songs and borrowed $200 from his father to record two songs with his four male back-up singers dressed in kilts and argyle knee socks.

Five years later he got his first Broadway break when the famed director and teacher Lee Strasberg plucked him 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 in Luther, Generation, The Knack and, in 1964, Hang Down Your Head And Die where he met fellow actor Gerome Ragni.

He and Ragni became fast friends and he told Ragni about his daydream of creating a Broadway musical and proposed that they team-up to write a show about the hippies and the anti-war movement which was happening all around them. Ragni 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, Rado got a leading role as Richard the Lionhearted in the James Goldman play The Lion in Winter starring Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken.

By 1967, three years from the first idea to collaborate, Rado and Ragni had a presentable text called HAIR. No one wanted to produce it...until a chance meeting. On a train back to New York after an acting gig at Yale University (in Megan Terry's VIET ROCK), Gerome Ragni sat across from another passenger - the 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 their lyrics. With Galt at the piano, Rado and Ragni sang their songs for Papp.

Papp decided to open his newly-founded New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater (on New York City's Lower East Side) with HAIR. On October 17, 1967, Rado and Ragni's show first saw the light of the stage, directed by Gerald Freedman, where it ran for eight weeks. Michael Butler saw a performance of HAIR and acquired the rights from Joe Papp to move the production, under his auspices as an independent producer, to the Cheetah Nightclub (for one month).

HAIR's success with audiences continued and the authors convinced Butler to re-cast the show adding a new director of their choosing (Tom O'Horgan) and an advanced script which included 13 new songs...all with the idea of moving the show to Broadway. The new cast (Tribe) was comprised of five performers from The Public Theater show, plus 17 new faces.

HAIR opened on Broadway in the Spring of 1968 and starred Rado and Ragni in the lead roles of Claude and Berger (respectively).

A revival of HAIR was presented by The Public Theater in Central Park in the summer of 2008, directed by Diana Paulus under the guidance of Rado. The production moved to Broadway in 2009 and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

In 2009 Rado was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 2019, the original 1968 Broadway cast recording of HAIR was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

In 1969, Rado, Ragni and MacDermot also won a Grammy Award for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album.

Rado remained active until his death and in the intervening years, has been working on two other pieces: American Rainbow and Sun, in addition to supervising various productions of HAIR around the world.

Gerome Ragni died in 1991; Galt MacDermot passed in 2018.

He is survived by his brother Ted Rado, sister-in-law Kay Rado, nieces Melanie Khoury, Emily DiBona, Melissa Stuart, great nieces, a great nephew and his devoted HAIR tribe around the world.

A Celebration of his Life will be announced at a later date.

Donations www.entertainmentcommunity.org (formerly The Actors Fund).



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