Back in early 1999, we were working on programming our next season. We knew that we were going to open with the brilliant Floyd Collins, and that the season would also include our first sequel. We had done an original revue in 1996 called Out on Broadway, an evening of theatre songs sung from a gay perspective. It was a huge hit originally (we even brought it back for additional performances a few months after its first run ended), and people had been asking for a sequel ever since, so we decided that Out on Broadway 2000 -- or OOB-2K as we nicknamed it -- would be our spring show. But we weren't sure what to put in the third slot, and almost without any forethought, we finally announced that Hair would be the third show.
Now, I didn't really know Hair. I had seen the movie in high school. One of my friends was a neo-hippie and she dragged a bunch of us to a showing at Meramec Community College. Since then I had been a moderate fan of the music. (I really liked singing "Sodomy" loud enough for my mother to hear it.) Then in college, a group from Brown University was touring New England with a production of Hair, and they stopped by our campus for a few performances. It was fucking weird! I didn't much like it. I didn't know what the fuck it was. It wasn't a musical like any I had ever seen... And that was what I knew about Hair.
Then all these years later, I blindly put Hair into our season. We held auditions, we cast the show, we started rehearsals, and I thought, "Holy shit, I have no idea what to do with this!" The script didn't make sense. The lyrics didn't make sense. I didn't know how to stage these bizarre songs. I couldn't tell if there was a story in there or whether there was a main character.
And then the heavens opened up, the Universe took pity on me, and I happened upon a national discussion group about Hair online. Luckily for me, the group included Michael Butler, who originally produced the show on Broadway, a woman who is the Hair archivist, and several members of the original cast. Thank God.
They were happy to answer my questions, explain lines and references, etc. One of them even wrote out for me a really detailed description of the original staging of "Aquarius," which we adapted for our production. As other productions have done, we gave ourselves a tribe name: the Osage. But the show still didn't make much sense. All my new Hair friends just kept saying "Trust the show, man. It will work."
And so we trusted the show. We were flying blind, but we trusted the damn show.
And then on opening night we understood. Suddenly our eyes were opened to the mystical magic of this show. I've never seen an audience more connected to a show. People were in love with it from the first moments. As we sang the finale, "Let the Sun Shine In," I looked around and saw that about half the audience was sobbing.
I mean, they were sobbing!
Like the original production, we did our curtain call without music, and then the band roared back to life playing the title song and the cast went into the house to bring the audience onstage to dance with them. To our amazement, about two-thirds of the audience came onto the stage to dance, many still sobbing, others hugging us, thanking us. It was like no experience I've ever had in the theatre before or since.
That Christmas, we had a tribe holiday party and the actors begged me to do the show again. No, I said, we kicked ass, we sold out all but one show, everyone loved it, and we were going to go out on a high note. About a month later, we announced we'd be remounting the show in August 2001. Now I know -- never say never...
The second time we did it, we took a big risk. Instead of our usual 12 shows over four weeks (the first Hair actually ended up playing 15 performances because we added some Wednesdays), this time we would run the show for 23 performances over six weeks. And so we did. And we sold out 23 out of 23 shows.
After we closed I wrote a book about the show: Let the Sun Shine In: The Genius of Hair. I understood it now.
Then, about a year ago, I was thinking about organizing another St. Louis Political Theatre Festival. I was watching early Presidential campaign coverage, and I kept hearing people compare Obama to Bobby Kennedy. Everybody was talking about how 2008 was so parallel to 1968, the year Hair moved to Broadway. And I remembered back to 2001 when Michael Butler came to see our production and he told me that he could see that the 60s were coming back and that the Hair tribes would lead the way...
I knew it was time for Hair again. I knew that we had to do it right before the election, to inspire people, to shake them, to engage them, to remind us all that we never did solve the many social and political problems explored in Hair. Forty years later, racism is still a major problem. We're back at war again. And the Youth Vote has been reborn! I wondered if maybe we were finally going to get to finish the work of the 1960s, the work that was prematurely ended by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and by Watergate. And it seemed to me it would be utterly idiotic if we didn't open the season with Hair.
So here we are. And what a goddamn fucking joy it is! Stay tuned...
On with the Groovy Revolution!
(my Osage Tribe name)