Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a musical that was written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. The musical was produced to reflect the hippie culture and sexual uprising in the late 19th century, but due to the liberal approach taken by the producers, most of the songs in the musical were used as slogans and chants in the Vietnam peace revolutions. The musical contained a high amount of vulgarity and depicted the open abuse of illegal drugs, sexuality, disrespect for the America and patriotism, and decency in dressing and behavior that triggered a lot of remarks and controversy. The musical created a new standard and genre in theatres by clearly defining what rock musical by integrating a racially mixed cast, and including the audience to the stage to contribute in the final shooting of the musical.
In assessing the concept behind Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, it can be simply described as a scripted musical having rock music. The rock musical genre is a relatively new phenomenon and may have elements from other genres such as album musicals. In the initial Hair production from Broadway, the stage was open, with no drapes with the grid and fly area visible to the viewers. The stage was intended to replicate the hippie lifestyle, hence the use of grey shades on the walls that were later covered with street graffiti. The stage was also covered with props of miscellaneous items that were collected by the musical’s cast as they toured the streets of New York. Some of these items included a full-size effigy of a bus driver, Jesus’ head and a neon signs of a brothel and a movie theater. The strategic use of these random items was to bring in the carefree feeling, in the musical, as well as injecting a dose of reality in the work. Other items included military equipment and bell-bottomed pants that served the same purpose of introducing reality in the musical.
The directing of the musical was done by Tom O’Horgan who had a reputation for taking on experimental projects in theater. Personally, O’Horgan was responsible for the introduction of nudity in Broadway although he had already tried the extremist and liberal approach in other theaters. His directing style consisted of bombarding the spectators using all the media available and at several levels. His usage of polyphony consisted of splitting up the verbal structures, characters and narratives among different actors. This regularly created a chaotic situation that was not easy to work out as it attacked all the sense in the audience. O’Horgan was also extremely flexible and permissive in his directing role and allowed the actors to mould the script to fit their strengths. This unpredictable strategy applied by O’Horgan was extended into the middle of the musical where actor’s roles were sometimes changed. This style of directing was extremely rare in the 19th century making the production of the musical a massive success.
Representational and Presentational Staging
In the musical, there are instances of representational and presentational staging styles used. The development of Hair was done in such a way that assumed that the activities and characters on the stage were real. The musical talks about an association of politically dynamic, energetic hippies that lead a bohemian lifestyle in the heart of New York City while opposing the recruitment of citizens to fight in the Vietnam War. The struggle to realize political liberation as well as an elimination of the backhanded methods of international diplomacy pushes citizens to use extreme methods to attract the attention of fellow citizens and government stakeholders to the current state of affairs. The choice and significance of the issue of coerced conscription into the army was an excellent choice, as it brought out a real subject that affected most of the audience and the characters themselves.
While the musical contained a high level of reality, it also contained aspects of presentational staging. This is where the musical takes on aspects that are created by the producers for merely entertainment or other purposes. In this strategy, the musical makes no effort to hide the fact that it is a cluster of artists presenting several themes through musically coordinated actions. In Hair, there are several instances where the characters and the audience interact at very close quarters. Perhaps the most outstanding instance of presentational staging was when the audience was invited for the finale. In the course of the musical, when Claude takes up his position on the stage, the rest of the ‘tribe’ intermingles with the viewers. By coming into close contact and interacting with the audience, the characters and the producers were acknowledging the fact that their musical was non-realistic.
The scene containing Claude singing about drug abuse were extremely funny as they had deeper intentions to magnify the state of interracial relationships, sexuality and drug abuse by using intoxicated members of cast to sing them out in a comical and haphazard manner. Claude is considered a tragic hero because of his selfless sacrifice to fight for his principles and those of his ‘tribe’.
The audience in the theater was made up of people from different lifestyles, and they exhibited various behavior. One good audience behavior that is easily noticeable is the limited reactions to the events that took place on stage. Most of the scenes contained heavy themes that questioned the deep-seated principles of most of the viewers. Matters dealing with sexuality, freedom of speech, politics and liberation were freely brought up, but the audience contained their reactions. However, poor behavior among the audience was the tendency to make snide remarks concerning the production after it was over.