HAIR, Let the Sunshine In
Updated: Jul 18
During the year 2000 I made three trips to New York to secure the rights to produce HAIR in Los Angeles. I went with Arthur Allan Seidelman, a highly respected tv/film/theatre director who would be directing the REPRISE production, should the creators decide to give us the rights. I never understood the problem of getting these theatrical rights, we’d never had it with any other shows. REPRISE was a solid enterprise and HAIR was still produced frequently since its inception in 1967. It might have been the fact that writer James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot didn’t speak to each other, so a complexity was added to the negotiations that made extra trips and additional meetings necessary. It might be the inexplicable fact that Rado had been working non-stop on rewrites since the show’s beginning more than thirty years previously. But finally, everybody agreed that we could produce the show and we moved joyfully ahead.
HAIR, THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL was an enormous hit on Broadway in 1968, a game-changer, a new concept in musicals. It was the theatrical statement of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the hallucinogenic drug scene and the sexual revolution. Its “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” became the anthems of the rebellious times. The characters in the show were referred to as “the tribe” and were played as such, with bonding between everybody in the company, insisted upon by the director, the musical director Peter Matz and myself. Our HAIR was going to be a celebratory love-in, nothing less.
We planned the production for the summer of 2001, six performances at the Wadsworth Theatre, a 1700-seat site on the grounds of the Veteran’s Administration in West LA. It will be important to remember that the VA is controlled by the federal government. More later about that.
From the beginning, I had never been so excited planning a production. Auditions were sublime, the actors seemed more thrilled than their usual state of tension. On the second day as we went through the early round of actors on their callbacks, the Associate Musical Director made everybody stand around the piano and improvise while we all watched carefully to see their spirit as well as their voices and how they blended with each other. This was really going to be a tribe, a team, a family.
The dramatic moment of the auditions came when I told the actors that they would all have to be nude for the finale of Act One. Everybody either smiled nervously or grinned happily except for Stephanie J. Block, currently a Broadway musical star, but at that time a competent local actor and singer. She was religious, we learned, she informed us she would not be taking her clothes off onstage, and she left the audition. I think the actors were relieved, one less competitor for a show that every singer, dancer and actor under thirty-five in LA was aching to perform.
Arthur, the director, informed me he was going to bring in a young actor from New York, Eric Potter, specifically because of his experience with nude work in gay shows, his comfort level and his well-endowed penis. In fact, a guy I knew came to opening night, and having seen this young stud, bought front row tickets for every subsequent performance.
Because the nude scene was being done in a federal building, we had to get permission from the government. They informed us that we could do a thirty-second bit, but no more. So, we never had the actors rehearse nude, their inauguration would be opening night.
The rehearsal period was like a scene from the ‘60s Greenwich Village, flamboyant, somewhat wild and of course grueling work. Everybody in the cast had grown their hair long and bushy and wigs were unnecessary. Jim Rado, the co-lyricist and co-book writer, was onsite the entire time, annoying everyone and intruding on the process. One afternoon, when we were all high from a particularly gorgeous scene with a heart-stirring song, he tried to soul kiss me; it was the last time I got anywhere near his face.
He jumped on the stage whenever he had a comment for the cast, ignoring the director. I had to take him aside and assure him he was a valuable guest but was not directing this production. He continued with his interference at those moments when he was overcome with his creation, his power. Jim and his partner, Galt MacDermot, were never onsite at the same time, they were indeed enemies. Galt came to the opening with the original choreographer who was pissed off she hadn’t been hired for this production.
HAIR sold out as soon as it was advertised. Some of our actors were discovered for Broadway because of the show; Steven Weber replaced Matthew Broderick in THE PRODUCERS, Marissa Jaret Winokur got a leading role in HAIRSPRAY. People brought their young kids to a performance – I was alarmed when I saw a ten-year-old with his dad, a scruffy, long-haired throwback to the 60’s, both in tie-dyed t-shirts and torn jeans. And a middle-aged couple on a motorcycle, their faces painted many colors, like rainbows. I was a 60’s creature as well as they, but this recycling of the grand old days still flummoxed me.
One of the actors’ parents, conservative midwestern folks, came out from Iowa for the show. Their son was a handsome young man, I met them in the lobby pre-show, and I worried. “Well, they’re just going to see it all, aren’t they,” Arthur our director tried to reassure me. At intermission, I hid from them.
Back to the nude scene, several reminiscences: At intermission, our Board of Directors’ attorney, a very savvy movie biz guy, pulled me aside and grumped, “The nude scene was supposed to be thirty seconds according to the feds. I timed it; it was twelve minutes!” I tried to look upset and surprised, but all I was thinking was that by the time the news got back to the bureaucracy in Washington, if it ever did, the show’s run would be over. But meanwhile, everybody was talking about it. Sam Harris, one of the leads told me, “I keep fucking up the lyrics to the song, I’m so distracted by being naked.” I said, “Stop worrying Sam, nobody’s listening.” One of the cast masturbated before he came out, so his penis would grow. I felt grateful that I didn’t know about this event until after the run was finished.
Arthur had designed the show so that the audience and performers would be as one with little distance between them. The actors came onstage in the beginning by cavorting through the audience, stopping to say hello or give a fist bump while the overture played. After the finale, when the actors took bows, I ran up on stage from the audience and we all danced and hugged. Frequently, an overcome audience member would also jump on the stage and dance wildly. Nobody had seen anything like this before in a theatre. HAIR was a unique experience. It was simply glorious, unforgettable. It altered my life as a producer forever, after knowing what remarkable joy this musical theatre world could be.
Check out my recent memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK. It is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore. https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Would-Hate-This-Book