HAIR: History

How HAIR Came to Broadway - Tony Nominations - The HAIR Experience - Court Battles - The Public's Backlash against HAIR

How HAIR Came to Broadway

HAIR was created by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, two out-of-work actors who, according to Rado, "were aware of the traditional Broadway format, but we wanted to create something new, something different, something that translated to the stage the wonderful excitement we felt in the streets." This "excitement" was that of the long-haired, peace-loving, freewheeling hippies of New York's East Village.

According to Rado, "[We] intended HAIR for Broadway. [We] knew that's where it belonged and offered it to many of the established uptown producers. It was rejected again and again." Naturally they were delighted when producer Joseph Papp approached them and proposed that HAIR become the very first production at the under-construction New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater for a limited run of six weeks. Papp had liked HAIR's premise, and suggested that Rado and Ragni develop a score. This led to the entrance of Galt MacDermot, who familiarized himself with the hippie culture and music in order to compose the score for the show. HAIR opened at the Public Theater on October 17, 1967. However, that run soon came to an end, with no new venue in sight.

That's when Michael Butler entered the picture. He had seen HAIR at the Shakespeare Public Theater and loved it. He decided to become involved in the production; jointly he and Papp moved HAIR to a disco, Cheetah. Geographically, HAIR had reached Broadway -- Cheetah was located in the spot where the Roundabout Theater is today, on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. Because Cheetah was still a working disco, HAIR had to start performances early in the night (7 pm curtain, with no intermission) to clear the floor in time for the dance crowd.

Eventually, due to financial troubles, HAIR had to close. However, the production staff still wanted to see their show succeed on Broadway. To keep HAIR alive, Butler first tried working in concert with Papp: "Papp and I discusseed a first class coproduction. We made a deal and then Papp changed the terms. He did not believe in its future. So I went it alone."

In the meantime, the authors had revised HAIR's book and music. They said, "We want to shut down, go into rehearsal again with the new script and new songs and with a new director." After negotiations between the authors and Butler, final changes were agreed upon. Tom O'Horgan agreed to become the new director. Butler also insisted James Rado take over the role of "Claude."

O'Horgan took three months to recast and rework the show. HAIR rehearsals took place at the Ukranian Hall in the East Village, yet no performace space was to be had. Finally, Butler was able to strike a deal with the owner of the Biltmore Theater, located on 47th Street. HAIR moved into its new home.

The show opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theater on April 29, 1968. It closed on July 1, 1972 after 1,742 performances.

There was an unsuccessful revival of HAIR in October 1977 which closed after 43 shows. Today, HAIR is performed all over the world -- which demonstrates that peace, love, freedom, and happiness are never out-of-date!

(Adapted from material by Michael Butler, Didier C. Deutsch, and James Rado.)

Tony Award Nominations, 1969

More information about the 1969 Tony Awards is available from On Broadway and The Tony Awards Online.

Stories about "the HAIR Experience"

Excerpts from Michael Butler's Journal (Courtesy Orlok Productions)
"Casting for HAIR in New Mexico"
"HAIR and the State of the Nation"
"How and Why I Got into HAIR"

Thoughts by W. Michael Harris

Court Battles Surrounding HAIR

HAIR's "controversial" subject matter and presentation made it vulnerable to attempts to censor performances across the country. Two prominent cases of such took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970 and Chattanooga, Tennesee in 1975.

The trouble in Boston began when District Attorney Garret Byrne tried to shut down the production of HAIR for questionable content, claiming that HAIR desecrated the American Flag and was a "lewd and lascivious" show. HAIR was due to open at the Wilbur Theater on February 20, 1970, but the DA's office meant to have it cancelled. Gerald Berlin, one of the lawyers for HAIR's producers, went to the State Supreme Court to allow the production to open in the midst of the court proceedings.

This case went to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The Court found that the show, "constitutes ... an obscure form of protest protected under the First Amendment." The court ruled that the Boston performances should be allowed to continue if the following conditions were met:

  1. "To have each memeber of the cast clothed to a reasonable extent at all times, and
  2. To eliminate completely all simulation of sexual intercourse or deviation."
The Court made no ruling on the "misuse of the national flag" issue.

Unwilling to alter the content of the show, the cast of HAIR closed down the show on April 10, 1970, in protest of the ruling. The cast faced arrest if they appeared on stage nude. Berlin said about the closing, "I didn't want to advise them to go on with the show and risk jail. It's a serious offense if the convictions were to hold up."

A note of support from the Actors' Equity Association was sent to the cast of HAIR in Boston on April 14, 1970:

"The Council of Actors' Equity Association representing all 17,000 performers in the field of theatre throughout the United States and Canada wishes to express to you its profound shock and dismay over the repressive and capricious action by local and state authorities in closing down the Boston production of "Hair." Censorship is to us an abomination; closing a play for its content, for its ideas, for its setting (even if that setting displays an American flag - since when was there a valid degree as to who would be allowed to display it?) - all this is directly contrary to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the arts to flourish. We say: beware; when men can do as they have done in Boston then bookburning cannot be far behind.

Presiding Officer"

The Massachusetts State Supreme Court's decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; however, that court did not clear the way for HAIR to reopen (without threat of criminal action) until May 22, 1970. The vote to reopen HAIR was a 4-4 tie.

If you have access to Lexis-Nexis, you can read the Massachusetts State Supreme Court decision online by searching the "Massachusetts Case Law" section for the case called "P.B.I.C., inc. vs. District Attorney of Suffolk County." (The document can't be reproduced here due to the terms and conditions of Lexis-Nexis use.) Because the U.S. Supreme Court action was a court order and not an opinion, it is not listed online.

When Southeastern Promotions, Ltd., tried to produce HAIR in Chattanooga, they were met with opposition from the managing board of the municipal city theater. The board rejected the proposal on the grounds that it would not be, "in the best interest of the community." The company stated that this was a violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech. The board stated they did not feel the musical's producers were entitled to First Amendment protection due to the fact that the show contained "obscene" content.

This case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court refused to weigh the matter on whether or not the show was obscene but rather, considered only the procedures used by the board to reject the show as well as the subsequent actions. The entire ruling can be found online at the FindLaw website.

The Public's Backlash against HAIR

Jacob Bush
American Musical Theatre
John Bush Jones
December 4, 1995

The introduction of the musical HAIR to the American public caused quite a stir. The use of rock music in a musical quite went against the traditional showtunes that Americans were used to. This, coupled with open nudity and desecration of the American flag on-stage served to anger many, and made HAIR a battle-cry for proponents of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

First, one must understand the history of HAIR before it was brought on the road and served up to the American public, as opposed to simply being a NYC phenomenon. HAIR first opened on December 2, 1967, at the Shakespeare Public Theatre, an off-Broadway theatre in downtown New York City (141; The Age of HAIR; Horn, Barbara Lee). Despite back-stage bickering among the writers and producers during the Public run, HAIR got mixed reviews. Some critics balked at the use of nudity and topics of "Sodomy" (one of the songs from the Public performance, as well as claims of unpatriotism and flag desecration in a theatrical setting. After an eight-week run at the Public, the production was moved to The Cheetah, what amounted to a disco club on Forty-Fifth and Broadway (p. 38, Horn). HAIR found itself moving both physically and mentally closer to Broadway. The produces hoped that the style of HAIR, one of social rebellion, would click with those frequenting the Cheetah. The Cheetah also held 700 people, as opposed to the Public's 300 (p. 38). The added ticket sales and exposure were hoped -- by the producers and directors -- to boost the show. "As a temporary way-station, the Cheetah served its purpose, but as the show's permanent abode, it left much to be desired." (p. 38, Horn) Unfortunately, the simplicity of the on-stage dance steps compared to the new disco steps being done on the dance floor, coupled with horrendous acoustics in the Cheetah, served to make it a poor run. It soon became apparent that a decision had to be made: whether to drop HAIR and not attempt to bring it to the limelight on Broadway, or to make the jump to that famed street. The appearance on the scene of Michael Butler decided the question for those involved; HAIR was going to Broadway. Michael Butler came from the well-established Butler family of Chicago. He had delved into the world of politics, working for such people as JFK and one-time IL governor Otto Kerner. However, "as a producer, Michael Butler is best known as the force who brought HAIR from the Shakespeare Free Theatre to Broadway." [1] "He (Butler) had seen HAIR at the Shakespeare Public Theatre and loved it. He decided to produce the show, and brought in a new director, Tom O'Horgan." [2] This new director tore HAIR apart, and took three months to redo and rework the play in order for it to be ready for Broadway. Finally, HAIR appeared with nineteen songs in the first act, as opposed to nine in the Public production. The order of songs had been changed, as well; the new production had "Aquarius" as the opening number, using it to introduce all of the characters.

HAIR was seen by some, including its second director, O'Horgan, to be a revival of Broadway, which he viewed to be theatrically dead. "It's almost an attempt to give Broadway mouth-to-mouth resuscitation," O'Horgan is quoted as saying in souvenir program from the Biltmore, HAIR's on-Broadway home following the Cheetah run. (p. 52, Horn)

HAIR did very well in certain locales in the United States, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. However, when it tried to run in places like Boston; Chattanooga, TN; Washington, D.C.; and St. Paul, MN, there was an outcry against it. Citizens protested productions of the musical in St. Paul, but they were unable to shut down productions of it. "On opening night, a frustrated clergyman released eighteen white mice into the lobby, hoping to frighten the audience. His actions went unnoticed, and the show enjoyed a warm reception in Minnesota." (101, Horn) Several different groups turned out in Washington, including the Smite Smut League, the Gay Liberation Front, and political organizations. (p. 101, Horn) However, the appearance of such people as Henry Kissinger at the Washington performances showed a brighter side to Washington's initial disgust with the musical. "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." This is what the First Amendment explicitly says. However, some felt it necessary to supersede that guaranteed freedom by prohibiting HAIR from being performed in various places throughout the country. Boston was by far one of the worst hit by anti-HAIR furor. Ticket sales exceeded $600,000 in advance, but a district attorney in Boston saw a preview and decided that it was unfit to play in Boston. He had seven judges of the Massachusetts Supreme Court watch a preview performance, and these seven agreed with him, issuing a restraining order against the cast and crew of HAIR. The company was ultimately ordered to revise the show to put clothes on the nude scene and doing away with the skit entailing desecration of the American flag. Michael Butler, the producer of the show, refused to change anything, and brought the case before the United States Supreme Court. The majority opinion in the case stated that such restrictions would have "a chilling effect on the right of free expression." (102, Horn)

Authorities in Chattanooga, TN, seemed even more hell-bent on preventing HAIR from appearing in their fair city; not even previews were allowed to occur in Chattanooga. This ban was based solely on the musical's reputation, and not on anything that anyone had seen first-hand. (102, Horn) The US Supreme Court again saw the tribe of HAIR among them, and this time ruled that although HAIR may have broken Chattanooga's anti-obscenity laws, the authorities had exercised "unlawful prior restraint" in their handling of the case. (103. Horn) The cases in Boston [3] and Chattanooga, and their subsequent appearances before the United States Supreme Court, were very strong cases for proponents of the First Amendment. The highest court in the land had upheld the American public's right to freedom of speech, and perhaps more importantly, the right to exercise that freedom in a forum as public as the theatre. In Chattanooga, the company of HAIR wanted to perform at a municipal theatre known as Chattanooga Memorial Auditorium. As a municipal theatre, this was supposedly a forum open to anyone who wanted to use the facilities. "Shortly after receiving Southeastern's [4] application, the directors met, and, after a brief discussion, voted to reject it. None of them had seen the play or read the script, but they understood from outside reports that the musical, as produced elsewhere, involved nudity and obscenity on stage." This was according to US Supreme Court documents on the case of "Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. V. Conrad et al," Southeastern's case against the directors of the Memorial Theatre.

The evidence used against HAIR was damning in terms of obscenity law. The biography for one actress stated in the program from the Biltmore "Hobbies are picking my nose, fucking, smoking dope, astro (astral) projection. All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother." [5] The defense also cited a passage from a song in the score. "Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilungus, pederasty - father, why do these words sound so nasty? Masturbation can be fun. Join the holy orgy, kama sutra, everyone." [6]

Fortunately for the plaintiff, the case was not about obscenity. The company of HAIR could have very easily lost the fight if they were contending that their show did not violate anti-obscenity laws. However, this was not the fight. Southeastern Promotions was fighting for its freedom of speech and for the freedom of speech of the performers, all of which was granted in the Constitution. On these grounds, the US Supreme Court ruled that the production could be staged. Despite, or perhaps because of, the stir that HAIR created when it swept the country, it had a lasting impact on American Musical Theatre as a whole, ushering in thetimes for later rock operas such as Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar. These further works could not have been possible without HAIR's trailblazing efforts on the paths of freedom of speech and rock operas.


  1. Michael Butler;
  2. "The History of HAIR"; Harris, Tracy; last modified 11/13/95;
  3. As an interesting sidebar, Barbara Lee Horn's book The Age of HAIR tells of the Boston case being brought to the US Supreme Court. However, after extensive research using the US Government's database for court cases, NO record of this case can be found. The Chattanooga case does, however, exist in this database.
  4. Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. was a promotional company that had been hired to do promotions for HAIR and was in charge of finding venues in which HAIR could be performed across the country.
  5. This is taken from official Supreme Court documents on the case. These documents stated the opinions of the majority and minority in the decision. The documents were obtained through the Lexis System.
  6. Ibid (see last note)
Note from Michael Butler: Boston did go to the US Supreme Court. Jerry Berlin was the attorney.

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