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Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a 1960’s rock musical based on the hippie culture and sexual revolution of the era. Written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and with the musical score of Galt MacDermot, it is known as a revolutionary ‘rock-musical’ with many of its songs being used for the anti-Vietnam War Peace Movement.

The musical is known for its controversies due to its explicit content on sexuality, use of illegal drugs or psychostimulants and disregard for the American Flag. It featured a fully nude scene which triggered a lot of controversy.

After a few other theatres, the play was held on Broadway in April 1968. It has a whopping 1,750 performances, gaining popularity which was off the charts. A number of simultaneous productions were also held throughout the United States as well as Europe, including one in London, which ran for almost 2000 performances. Many of the songs form the musical become instant hits, featuring on the charts for top songs for a number of weeks running. Hair also got its own full length feature film adaptation which was released in 1979. Years later, in March 2009, a Broadway revival version opened, which got the Tony Award and also the Drama Desk Award for the best revival of a musical.

The plot of the musical deals with a group of youth living in New York during the time of the Vietnam War. It shows a group of politically aware hippies with long hair from the ‘Age of Aquarius’ living a nonconformist life in a city like New York. The protagonist Claude, his friend Berger and Sheila, their roommate, try to battle all odds of living in a politically torn nation, trying to express their sexuality, and struggle to fight against conscription in the Vietnam War. While trying to find an identity for themselves and deciding on what path to take, they must confront the possibilities of what the future might hold for them. It also shows their constant struggle with their parents and society, with one end (the conservative American parents) trying to impose their principles on the younger generation, and the ‘tribe’ on the other end, trying to break free of the restraints imposed on them.

Claude, the protagonist, is thrown into a dilemma where he must decide whether he should refuse enlistment into the army and refuse to go to the war, like his friends have done, or join the army, like his parents who are conservative Americans, have instructed him to do. Being a pacifist, he is torn by the idea of going to war, but on the other side lies his family that pressures him to go forward with the idea of enlisting into the military. Claude’s friends try to persuade him to do otherwise, giving reasons as to why he shouldn’t enlist. The issue of racism is also powerfully addressed in the play; for example, when Claude goes for his interview, the tribe members act out how his interview went saying, pointing out that the army is a bunch of white people who send black people to kill yellow people to defend the land they stole from red people. To everyone’s and Claude’s own despair, he is enlisted at last, coming towards the end in an army uniform and saying “Like it or not, they got me”. The final scene shows him being covered by a black-cloth, indicating that he has been killed.

The musical is lauded for being racially diverse and features African-Americans. In fact, one-third of the cast is African-American. It is also sexually explicit and deals with topics like the usage of drugs, which the members of the tribe discuss with each other. During the curtain call, the members sing ‘Let the Sun Shine in’, and ask the audience members to join them on stage for the dance. Hair has received critical acclaim from a number of critics, calling it a revolutionary musical which boldly portrayed the hopes, dreams and ambitions but most of all the distressing future which a group of politically aware youngsters were imagining (source: Synergy). There was also a scene where two cast members dress up as tourists and go to the audience and as the cast on the stage as to why they have such long hair. To which Claude and Berger reply about the significance of the ‘hair’. The tourist woman also states that kids should “be free, no guilt” and that long hair is like ‘elegant plumage’ for male birds’’.