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GOOD MORNING BROADWAY FANS! We are belting out those powerful tunes every morning with our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWNS. This is getting us into the groove of celebrating the return of Live Theater and Broadway’s biggest night just 32 DAYS AWAY…. We are talking about The 74th Annual Tony Awards. We got more legendary performances coming up.
Speaking of celebrating and community, our # 32 selection today on our countdown is all about that. This particular show is a groundbreaking life changer. We take you back to New York City during the late 1960’s. This story centers around the lives of free spirited bohemian hippies fighting for peace, equality, and love…. all against conscription at the time of the Vietnam War. This is the landmark OG American Rock opera…. HAIR!!! It features an iconic score and book by Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, and James Rado.
From the 1969 telecast, the cast of the show’s original production perform a medley of THREE-FIVE ZERO-ZERO, WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS MAN, and the show’s anthem LET THE SUNSHINE IN.
HAIR was first conceived by co-writers Gerome Ragni, and James Rado. They were originally actors and performed together in a short lived Off Broadway play that flopped called HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD AND DIE. They started to write the show and created characters based on their own personal lives and experiencing stories of residents of the East Village. Several stories they knew of people including young teenagers dropping out and getting kicked out of school because of their hair growing long. In addition to being inspired by those stories, Ragni and Rado had different backgrounds. Rado wanted to write the next major traditional musical (a la Rodgers & Hammerstein). Ragni was already active with a major Theater company called The Open Theatre that mainly produced Off-Off Broadway plays. While in the middle of writing HAIR, Ragni was performing in a production of a show called VIET ROCK by Megan Terry. The show told the story about 2 friends being thrown into the Vietnam War. Inspired by VIET ROCK, Rado and Ragni decided to expand the story of HAIR and update it with the Anti-War theme. They continued to work on the show which caught the attention of producer Eric Blau which passed it onto Grammy winning Canadian composer Galt MacDermot.
The show was then sent to numerous Broadway and Off Broadway producers who rejected it. Eventually it got the attention of Joseph Papp (who ran the New York Shakespeare Festival). He wanted the show to be performed in his newly built Theater in the East Village that was under construction at the time. It became the first non-Shakespeare production Papp was ever offered. With a full creative team together under the direction of Gerald Freedman and choreography by Anna Sokolow, HAIR began its rigorous casting and rehearsal process. During that time, the company and the staff of the Public were confused by the plot and the storyline. Gerald Freeman couldn’t deal with the stress and almost dropped out of the production the last week of rehearsals.
HAIR had its official world premiere Off Broadway at The Public Theater in 1967. The original run was for 6 weeks. The original Off Broadway run reviews were decent by critics but audiences were loving it.
Following the run at the The Public Theater, HAIR was then transferred to another Off Broadway space. This time, it played a former NYC nightclub called The Cheetah for 2 months.
3 months later, HAIR officially moved uptown to Broadway’s Biltmore Theatre (Currently the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) playing a total of 1,750 performances. Under the new direction of Tom O’Horgan and an updated script, the original cast featured…
James Rado as “Claude”,
Gerome Ragni as “Berger”,
Steve Curry as “Woof”,
Lynn Kellogg as “Sheila”,
Melba Moore as “Dionne”,
Shelley Plimpton as “Crissy”,
Sally Eaton as “Jeannie”,
and more
The show had many numerous replacements throughout its original Broadway run.
Audiences were amazed for the production but however, HAIR did meet some controversy from the critics For those who may not know, the show is well known for some insane action happening on stage including characters taking illegal drugs, sexual treatment, dissing of the American flag, and the entire cast at the end of Act 1 getting fully naked on stage. However, the show continued to take off breaking new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical”, using a fully diverse integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.
The original production of HAIR was nominated for 2 Tony Awards in 1969 including BEST MUSICAL. It lost both of its categories.
Following the success of the original production HAIR went on to become a worldwide hit with productions in London’s West End and International companies translating the iconic score and book into every major language.
It was later revived in New York several times including several concert productions. The first major concert production was held in 2001 at New York City Center part of their ENCORES series. Under the direction of Kathleen Marshall, the cast was led by….
Luther Creek as “Claude”,
Tom Plotkin as “Berger”,
Kevin Cahoon as “Woof”,
Idina Menzel as “Sheila”,
Brandi Chavonee Massey as “Dionne”,
Jessica Snow Wilson as “Crissy”,
Miriam Shor as “Jeannie”,
and more.
FUN FACT: The Ensemble also included some later future notable stars including Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Gavin Creel (who would later play “Claude” in the 2009 Broadway revival).
In 2004, a star-studded concert production was held at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Serving as an annual benefit concert for the Actor’s Fund, it was also recorded as a live album and released in 2005 from Ghostlight Records. This one night only performance alone helped raise over $500,000 for The Actors Fund. Co-directed and choreographed by Devanand Janki and Christopher Gattelli and an orchestra conducted by Seth Rudetsky, this production had more than one actor playing the same role. It included….
Raúl E. Esparza, Euan Morton, Adam Pascal, and Norm Lewis sharing the role of “Claude”,
Lea DeLaria, Gavin Creel, and John Tartaglia sharing the role of “Berger”,
Jai Rodriguez and Christopher Sieber sharing the role of “Woof”,
Shoshana Bean, Liz Callaway, and Jennifer Hudson sharing the role of “Sheila”,
Lilias White as “Dionne”,
Annie Golden as “Crissy”,
Harvey Fierstein as “Jeannie”,
and more.
The most recent revival of HAIR happened in 2008 commemorating the show’s 40th Anniversary. This production started out as an outdoor production Delacorte Theatre in Central Park (part of The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park Series where it all began for the show). It played a triumphant successful full summer sold out run. Under the direction of Tony winner (and nominee again this year)…. HAIR’s biggest super fan herself Diane Paulus, the cast was led by….
Jonathan Groff (later Christopher J. Hanke) as “Claude”,
Will Swenson as “Berger”,
Bryce Ryness as “Woof”,
Caren-Lyn Manuel Tackett as “Sheila”,
Patina Miller as “Dionne”,
Allison Case as “Crissy”,
Kacie Sheik as “Jeannie”,
and more.
The outdoor production did so well, it was transferred to Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2009 running for 548 performances. With the production’s same creative team led by Diane Paulus, the cast consisted of a mix of talents from the Central Park staging and newbies…
Gavin Creel (later Kyle Riabko) as “Claude”,
Will Swenson (later Ace Young) as “Berger”,
Bryce Ryness (later Jason Wooten) as “Woof”,
Caissie Levy (later Diana DeGarmo) as “Sheila”,
Sasha Allen (later Jeannette Bayardelle) as “Dionne”,
Allison Case (later Vanessa Ray) as “Crissy”,
Kacie Sheik (later Annaleigh Ashford) as “Jeannie”,
and more.
The 2009 Broadway revival was nominated for 8 Tonys that year. It took home only 1 and the big prize that night…. BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL.
Following the 2010 closing of the 2009 revival, the production went on a National Tour and fans were begging to have the production back on Broadway. The producers decided to bring HAIR to Broadway’s St. James Theatre for a limited 3 month engagement of 67 performances. This returning engagement starred….
Paris Remillard as “Claude”,
Steel Burkhardt as “Berger”,
Matt DeAngelis as “Woof”,
Caren Lyn Manuel Tackett as “Sheila”,
Phyre Hawkins as “Dionne”,
Kaitlin Kiyan as “Crissy”,
Kacie Sheik reprising her role of “Jeannie”,
and more
In addition to its success on stage, HAIR went on to become a hit on the big screen. The film version was released in 1979 from United Artists. The reviews were favorable but the original creative were not happy with how the production was set up. Some of the storyline was changed with all new songs added in just for the film. The cast included…
John Savage as “Claude”,
Treat Williams as “Berger”,
Don Dacus as “Woof”,
Beverly D’Angelo as “Sheila”,
Renn Woods as “Dionne”,
Annie Golden as “Jeanie”,
and more.
The film still went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for BEST PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY.
Originally back in the Spring of 2019, NBC was initially scheduled to present HAIR as a major live televised musical with Diane Paulus (recreating her direction from the 2009 revival). However, it was postponed.
HAIR today continues to be a popular show done in schools, community, regional theaters, and concert stages worldwide.
Doesn’t this performance make you feel surrounded by the beauty of nature?
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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