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Hail To The Hippies: Celebrating 50 Years Of 'Hair'

The cast of "Hair". (Courtesy Playbill)
The cast of "Hair". (Courtesy Playbill)
This article is more than 5 years old.

With Anthony Brooks

Fifty years of long, beautiful "Hair." We’ll look at the musical that changed Broadway.


Bob Mondello, NPR arts critic. (@Bob_Mondello)

Eric Grode, director of the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University, author of: “Hair: The Story of the Show that Defined a Generation”. (@EricGrode)

Emma Chaffee, student at Burlington High School. Performed in a production of “Hair” in April by the Very Merry Theater in Burlington, VT.

From The Reading List: "'Hair' At 50: Going Gray, But Its Youthful Optimism Remains Bouncy And Full-Bodied" — "This thoroughly American 'Tribal Love-Rock Musical' soon became a hit all over the world: Brazil, Italy, Japan ... And it made rock music something that theater was forced to reckon with. In shows like 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' 'Grease,' 'Dreamgirls' and 'Rock of Ages,' the rock musical became a Broadway genre. 'Hair' got there first.

These days, 'Hair' is performed in high schools, by kids who can ask their grandparents about the draft and the war in Vietnam. Many of those kids — whatever the length of their hair — have made news recently, carrying protest signs at the 'March for Our Lives,' reminding those of us who've gotten disillusioned over the years of the fierce optimism youth nearly always has about the future.

Their future.

'Hair' was the dawning of the 'Age of Aquarius,' but a half-century later, that age is still with us."

The New York Times: "‘Hair’ 50 Years Later: Readers Tell Us When They Let the Sunshine In" — "James Rado and Gerome Ragni could hardly have expected this response in late 1964 when they started writing material on their Hoboken landlord’s typewriter. At the time, hippies didn’t even exist — at least not by that name: The word 'hippie' first surfaced in a San Francisco newspaper article a few months later. But their creation, augmented enormously by the addition of the composer Galt MacDermot, did as much as anything to define the subculture for mainstream America. '‘Hair’ was marvelous for middle-aged people,' said the Off Broadway impresario Joseph Papp, who gave the show its premiere at his brand-new Public Theater in late 1967. 'They said, ‘Oh, that’s the reason my son is that way!’"

Burlington Free Press: "Very Merry Theatre presents ‘Hair’" — "At age 13, I fell completely in love with this musical. I remember crying at the closing song, 'Let the Sunshine In'. I remember feeling all-encompassing joy when pulled onto the stage by an older teen to dance as the song came to a close. What I didn’t fully understand back then, was that my feeling of joy was really a feeling of being a part of an important movement for the first time. This is the power that 'Hair' holds: any generation can identify with the plea for change. The cry of the youths in 'Hair' (the youths of the 60s) is echoed by the cry of every modern-day fight for freedom."

Music From The Show:

It was 1968 when the musical "Hair" brought the counter-culture and the Age of Aquarius to Broadway. Nothing like it had ever hit the mainstream stage before. It featured nudity, an integrated cast, rock and roll songs about, sex and drugs — and the plot? There was no plot. But the ode to hippie tribalism expressed something essential and hopeful - and became a hit all over the world.

This hour, On Point: How "Hair" let the sun shine in 50 years ago.

- Anthony Brooks

This program aired on May 4, 2018.


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