The Broadway revival of the 1967 rock musical “Hair” has been getting rave reviews since it premiered last month at the Al Hirschfeld theater on 45th Street in Manhattan. The humorous, lively songs about love, sex, and war complement the energy in the theater – with handouts inviting audience members to “stay in your seats (unless you are moved to dance)” – and are all part of the inviting atmosphere of the show.
The musical was written in the mid 1960s by two young actors who lived together in a Hoboken apartment – James Rado and the late Gerald Ragni. The show explores the personalities of a group of New York City hippies who face being drafted into Vietnam. There is very little dialogue, and instead, the focus of the show is the 29 songs including the famed “Aquarius” and “Easy to be Hard.”
A few minutes into the revival, the long-haired main character, Berger, tells the audience that “I came over via Hoboken” on the ferry to New York, and that’s how he ended up with the tribe of hippies.
The Hoboken connection doesn’t stop with Berger. The show’s co-writer, Rado, still lives in Hoboken at the age of 77.
Last week, he answered questions about how Hoboken in the 1960s could have influenced a musical about a tribe of young people in Manhattan facing the draft.
Tenth and Washington
Rado said he and fellow actor Gerome Ragni moved to an apartment at Tenth and Washington streets in Hoboken in 1965 after they spotted an ad in the Village Voice for a place with cheap rent – $75 a month. He now lives “further south” in Hoboken, although he declined to specify.
Living in that Hoboken flat, the two composed the plot, characters, and dialogue for “Hair.” (The songs were written by Galt MacDermot.)
“We were basically two people who were really interested in being artists in the theater,” Rado said of himself and Ragni last week. “We loved the theater. We wanted to contribute something to it.”
In the original show, the main character, Berger, uttered the same line as today about coming over from Hoboken on the ferry.
“That was our nod to the place where we lived,” Rado said. “They had very big ferryboats then. That was quite a trip.”
Rado revealed last year in an interview with the Advocate that he and Ragni were romantic partners as well as writing partners. He said last week that he had waited so long to say this because no one actually had asked him.
“We went through every emotion in the book with each other,” Rado said. “It got intense as we went along…the thing about male closeness and male relationships was, I think, a feature of the time. There was something in the hippie ethos and the hippie theme that was very much a breakthrough in male-to-male relationships that was not always, quote, ‘gay,’ just warm and loving.”
“To me it’s like a stage full of stars.” – James Rado on the revival of “Hair”
Hair finished its Broadway run in 1972, ran as a revival in 1977, then was released as a film starring Treat Williams and John Savage in 1979.
The latest revival has won rave reviews, and Rado is thrilled with it.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I think it’s a fabulous production. I think they’re incredible people in it. To me it’s like a stage full of stars. They’re all doing such a great job. Everyone gets along.”
Rado said that the show is relevant today because “We’re still at war.” He said he voted for Barack Obama in November. “I like him very much,” he said.
But what does he think of George W. Bush?
“Class clown,” he said simply.
Rado has never stopped creating. Right now, he is looking for a producer for a show he wrote with his brother, “American Soldier,” subtitled “The White Haunted House.”
But he still needs time for the basics, so the co-creator of “Hair” was asked where in Hoboken he gets his hair cut.
“I don’t,” he said.