Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 27, 2012

Shaftesbury Theatre’s production of Hair

September 27, 1968: The Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End opens a new musical. The performances had to be delayed until the passage of the Theatres Act of 1968 passed. Since 1737, all performances in the United Kingdom had to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. This was to ensure government approval of ideas for the state. The censorship method was introduced to protect Robert Walpole’s administration from political satire. As time went on, the Office became the last say on all theatrical matters and by the 1950s a group called “Angry Young Men” mocked the banality, conservatism, and restriction of British theater. John Osborne’s play A Patriot for Me was so extensively cut, it brought the system’s morally questionable status to an end.

Since restrictions were lifted, it was possible for Shaftesbury to use the same creative team as was used on Broadway and bring Hair to the British stage. The whole title is actually Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. The book and lyrics were written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni; musical score was by Galt MacDermot. The major themes of the musical were the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. The nude scene caused a controversial stir on both sides of the pond. The racially diverse cast also was something out of the ordinary. The play opened Off-Broadway at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in October 1967.

The show opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances. In London, the show ran for 1,997 performances. There were eventually a multitude of productions worldwide. There was a revival produced in 1977 and a film version followed in 1979. A London revival came to life in 1993. A Broadway revival again took to the stage in 2009 and another West End, London revival followed the next year. There was also an album produced by the original Broadway cast which sold millions of copies.

The play was in two acts with the famous brief nude scene coming at the end of the first one. There were some Top Ten hits from the musical including the title song. The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In and Good Morning Starshine also made its way into mainstream culture. The musical captured both the sexual escapades and drug subculture of the hippie movement. There was also an anti-Vietnam War peace movement theme and environmental issues were brought to the audience. Poverty and political corruption were exposed as well as the need for racial integration and integrity. It was powerful stuff for the times and continues to resonate even in revival productions.

Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair / Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen / Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer / Here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy

When the moon is in the seventh house / And Jupiter aligns with Mars / Then peace will guide the planets / And love will steer the stars

Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy / Listening for the new told lies / With supreme visions of lonely tunes / Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar

Good morning starshine, the earth says hello / you twinkle above us, we twinkle below / good morning starshine, you lead us along / my love and me / as we sing our / early morning singing song – all from Hair

Also on this day:

Tonight – In 1954, the Tonight show premiered.
Jesuits – In 1540, the Society of Jesus was formed.
Liberty Ship – In 1941, the SS Patrick Henry launched.

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