Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Hair

Go To
"Oh say, can you see my eyes — if you can then my hair's too short!"
—from the Title Theme Tune

The original rock musical, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, debuted in 1967 and is very much a product of its time, particularly the bohemian, hippie, Free Love and anti-Vietnam-War movements, but at the same time has found new relevance in subsequent revivals, including the Tony Award-winning 2009 Broadway revival starring Gavin Creel and Will Swenson who both earned Tony nominations for their roles. It was also very experimental for its time, involving nudity, audience participation and with some actors planted amongst the audience, not to mention scandalous for reasons which will be covered in the plot synopsis. The libretto (lyrics and dialogue) were written by its co-stars, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and the music by Galt MacDermot.

Hair was also made into a Rock Opera Concert Album and various hit singles including "Aquarius" and "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In)", and interestingly, was made into an often forgotten (but still unique) film, by Miloš Forman, starring John Savage. Both feature most of the original cast and variations on the original songs.

The musical centers around Claude (Rado), the leader of a "tribe" of New York hippies, and his two friends Berger (Ragni) and Sheila. After various songs extolling the various practices and issues afoot (Colored Spade for racism, Hashish for drug use, Sodomy for alternative sexuality, Ain't Got No for the tribe's semi-deliberate poverty), making it clear that this is a Divided States of America due to the differing values between generations. This is underlined when the play does a Smash Cut to the entire tribe having an orgy (yes, onstage) and the maid walks in. Claude is promptly berated by six cast members representing his parents, each one with a different costume and concern (we said it was experimental), and is told that he should join the army. He leaves, and (after another couple of songs) returns to admit that he passed his draft physical and may be forced to go fight in The Vietnam War.

A man in drag comes in. He leaves again after singing a very high song about peacocks and flashing the audience, and the tribe calls him Margaret Mead. (This was a Shout-Out at the time, though it looks like a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment today.) The tribe is then invited to a "Be-In", where the male members of the tribe burn their draft cards... All except Claude, who gets some quality angst out of whether he ought to or not. At this point, the tribe (or at least those actors in it who have chosen to do so) emerge naked on stage (we said it was scandalous), inviting the remaining cast members, and audience, to partake in "beads, flowers, freedom, happiness." Then a cop comes in and arrests everyone in the theatre on charges of obscenity. The tribe flees and the act ends.

When the play resumes, there's a short skit where tribe members act out what Claude's draft interview must've been like. Berger then gives Claude a hallucinogen, and most of the act is dedicated to depicting, on-stage and with frightening accuracy, Claude's resulting Mushroom Samba (we said it was experimental), which involves: a roll call of important historical figures; an Abraham Lincoln played by a black woman ("Shit, I ain't dyin for no white man!"); a slapstick comedy sequence in which some Buddhists get killed by some Catholic nuns, who get killed by some astronauts (with Frickin' Laser Beams), who get killed by some Chinese, who get killed by some Native Americans, who get killed by some Green Berets, who all kill each other, and then everyone gets up and plays like children until it gets violent and they all kill each other again. About this time Claude decides reality would be better and snaps out of it, having decided that he wants to be "a spirit invisible." That is what he becomes: the tribe holds an anti-war protest, but can't see Claude because he has succumbed to the draft. He is shielded from the audience's eyes while the closing number goes on, eventually revealed to be lying dead on the ground, at which point he is covered with a black cloth. The cast reprises the final number and invites the audience to come up on stage and dance with them.

The film version ends on a particularly Dark Reprise with a shocking ending, while the play ends on The Un-Twist. Various productions use various songs and elements, and being done by hippies, the production was continually tweaked and improved upon.

Audiences and critics loved the show, partially because it averted or subverted many of the era's most dominant tropes (and, for that matter, many of theatre's most dominant tropes; among other things, the set was minimal and there were no curtains whatsoever). It did what it wanted to, and it worked. Plus, for all the shock and outrage it inspired — hey, there's No Such Thing as Bad Publicity. It was not only the first Rock Musical, directly preceding shows like RENT and Spring Awakening, it was the first Concept Musical too (in which the central theme of the show is more important than the show's narrative), which culminated in A Chorus Line in '75. Good Morning, Starshine and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In got some respectable airplay as singles. Most importantly, it helped revive the flagging theatre scene and completely rewrote the common perspective of what you could get away with onstage.

The original musical Hair and stage adaptations provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Alternate Continuity: Every version that's ever been performed uses a different version of the plot, alternate lines, and alternate song list, which is why fans of the movie are not too irritated by deviations from the original play.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Jeanie loves Claude, but Claude loves Sheila, but Sheila loves Berger, but Berger loves everyone and doesn't seem to understand Sheila's affection. Also, Woof may or may not be in love with Berger.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Woof has a slight crush on Mick Jagger, and Jeanie says that he is "hung up" on Berger.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Claude, potentially.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Sodomy...fellatio...cunnilingus...pederasty....
  • Cool Old Lady: Margaret Mead would be this if "she" didn't turn out to be a man in drag.
  • Conscription: Claude is conscripted in the US Army.
  • Country Matters: "I believe that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of my cunt ... ry, 'tis of thee..."
  • Cultural Translation: Hair Tokyo 1969, written and translated by Katsumi Kahashi of The Tigers which almost completely rewrites the song lyrics/plots to suit Japanese attitudes, reflecting the Youth Movement at the time.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Claude is one to Sheila, Jeanie is one to Claude.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Meth, which is "a bad scene".
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Woof may not be a homosexual (his words), but he admits that he wouldn't mind having some fun with Mick Jagger.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: In the film, when Hud's fiancee first appears, her hair is straight and tied back in a bun, and the rest of her clothing is similarly conservative. At the end of the film when the Tribe is singing at Berger's grave, she's sporting an afro and hippy-ish clothing, implying that she ultimately joined them.
  • Fake Brit: Claude, an American, claims to be British In-Universe; he is actually from Flushing, Queens.
  • Hope Spot: The Tribe plans to help Claude flee to Canada to escape the draft, but he goes to the induction center before they can.
  • "I Am" Song: Manchester, England for Claude, Donna for Berger.
  • "I Want" Song: Where Do I Go is one for Claude as he struggles to decide whether or not he should burn his draft card. He ends up keeping it.
  • List Song:
    • Sodomy / Hashish — a list of unmentionable acts and drugs, respectively.
    • Colored Spade — "Iiiiii'm aaaaaa..." list of pernicious African-American stereotypes.
    • Ain't Got No — the song is an insanely fast recitation of things the hippies don't need or can't afford.
    • I Got Life — a recitation of body parts (sung on top of a table in the film)
    • Hair — a list of types of hair
      I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy
      Ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming
      Streaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka dotted
      Twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered and confettied
      Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied
  • Love Dodecahedron: All over the place. Explained in Jeanie's quote:
    Jeanie: This is the way it is. Sheila's hung up on Berger. I'm hung up on Claude. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger. And Berger's hung up everywhere. As a prospective mother, I would just like to say that there is something highly unusual going on here. And furthermore, Woof is hung up on Berger.
  • Medley: Most Cover Versions of "(Age of) Aquarius" usually mash it up with "Let the Sunshine In", as it does in the musical.
  • Messianic Archetype: Claude gives off some of these vibes after his death.
  • Mushroom Samba: Most of Act 2 has Claude undergoing one thanks to Berger giving him some drugs.
  • No Fourth Wall: When it played in 2005 in Toronto, the cast members spent the half-hour before the show in the audience, acting high and asking audience members questions. The show itself made tons of references to the audience, making it a very entertaining experience.
  • Rapid-Fire Descriptors: The song "Hair" describes all type of hair there is: "I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, streaming, gleaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied."
  • Sudden Downer Ending: Everything appears to be going great, and then Claude gets shipped off to Vietnam and dies in combat.
  • Sex Is Good: A scandalous attitude to have, all agree (especially if the onstage orgy is any indication).
  • Teeny Weenie: Berger teases Claude about having a small penis. Depending on the production, the audience may have seen for themselves whether it's true or not.
  • Where da White Women At?: Gender-reversed with "Black Boys/White Boys". White women sing the praises of black men, followed by black women singing the praises of white men.

The Miloš Forman film (1979) provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Forman introduced a cohesive plot into a mostly lyrical free-form musical while preserving the content and meaning (for the most part) of the songs in a very anti-hippie era.
  • Age Lift: Berger is in high school in the stage version, while the film version gives his age as 22.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sheila, a rather normal if a little unruly young woman, is incredibly taken with Berger, a coolheaded leader of a counterculture group who doesn't care about what polite society thinks. Take note that his scenes where he begins to impress her are always in conjunction with someone more proper, like her brother, her family, or even Claude.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The film version of Berger shows little to no interest in any women (though his family thinks he's gotten one pregnant), but is deeply interested in everything Claude does.
  • Artistic License – Military: Berger may have been able to fill in for Claude for a single anonymous roll call (he's shown giving a knowing wink to another soldier who stares at him in surprise when he answers for Claude), but as soon as the orders came through for them to ship out to Vietnam, the cat would have been out of the bag no matter what. None of Claude's gear would have fit him, none of Claude's squadmates would have kept silent because there's no way in the world they're going to deploy to combat with someone they've never seen before who clearly doesn't know what he's doing, Claude's squad leader, platoon sergeant, and platoon commander would have all done individual inspections of each soldier prior to boarding the plane, and Claude's squad leader would have been the first one to say "who are you?" to Berger. Long before the plane took off, Berger would have been arrested for trespassing and Claude would be classified as a deserter with every cop in the area on the lookout for him. Moviegoers with military experience were rolling their eyes big time during this scene.
  • Bail Equals Freedom: After the party crashing, the main gang gets sent to jail and won't be able to go free unless they get someone to bail them out with cash. No one had the funds on their own, so it took Berger begging his parents for the money to get them out.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Berger leads the tribe to Nevada, sneaks into the army training camp and impersonates Claude to give him a chance to see Sheila one last time... on the day Claude's battalion ships for Vietnam.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Each member of the tribe gets to sing a song that tells us a little about their outlook on life.
  • Death by Adaptation: Berger lived in the original play, but in the film adaptation undergoes Claude's fate of dying after being shipped off to Vietnam.
  • Downer Ending: The famous shot of Berger walking into the bowels of the plane after inadvertently taking Claude's place.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: One of the older women at the rich people gathering is very enthusiastic having Berger's butt shoved in her face during "I Got Life".
  • Friend to All Living Things: The tribe in Central Park gets the park policemen's horses dancing during Age of Aquarius.
  • The Ingenue: Claude. In the film, he's fresh off the bus from Oklahoma, on his way to be drafted, and the Tribe is in charge of swaying his innocent young mind after being wowed by his display of spontaneous horsemanship in Central Park.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Walking in Space combines acid trip lyrical imagery with depressing scenes of military training (including a gas-attack simulation) and a sad-looking Vietnamese girl singing the lyrics. (Although a singer in her own right, Linda Surh was overdubbed by the angelic-voiced Betty Buckley.)
  • Magical Negro: Averted. While Hud is still treated as a good person, he's shown to have been an absolute jerk with how he left his ex-girlfriend. He gets better.
  • No Name Given: Hud's ex-girlfriend has no name.
  • Oh, Crap!: Berger gets one in the barracks after he's taken Claudes' place and it's announced the unit is shipping out for Vietnam immediately. Claude gets an epic one when he gets back to the barracks and sees that it's empty, and he knows there can only be one reason why.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Claude decides to nearly break all ties with the gang after he and Shiela got their clothes stolen by them while the pair was Skinny Dipping. Humiliating her (by having her go home in her underwear without any money) and breaking their trust was the last straw after getting them in trouble with polite society.
  • Prim and Proper Bun: Appropriately enough, the Prison Psychiatrist who interrogates Woof on why he wears his hair long (and whether that makes him gay) in the title song sequence. Her hair is in a tight bun.
  • Race Fetish: The song called "Black Boys/White Boys", where two groups of people — one white, one black — sing about how black boys and white boys (respectively) turn them on. The male white officers agreeing with the white women that the black boys are delicious like chocolate, and the black officers agreeing with the black women about how kissable the white men are. By making the fetishism a mutual affair, the song makes clear that it's not about racism or sexism. Also, the focus on shallow beauty/sexiness is done in such a way that it sends an anti-racist message: The difference between races is a shallow difference, merely a matter of how you look. The work is from the same time as the Civil Rights Movement. The black guy Hud is a fully accepted member of the otherwise white hippie gang, and the song can be said to say "not only are people of other races not evil, you may even consider having sex with them!". While Captain Obvious these days, it was a radical message back when it was made.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "The Flesh Failures" is given a different meaning by the film's shocking Twist Ending, which is different from the original play. May actually produce tears, which is quite different from the feeling most people get watching the play.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Claude doesn't get shipped off to Veitnam, with Berger dying in his place.
  • Straight Man: Claude (film only) is a square about to leave for Vietnam, who Berger takes under his wing.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Fun and exciting musical numbers are all well and good, until you actually do so in front of an audience that neither wanted you nor invited you to their gathering, and especially for telling off the host. The heroes get fined for harassment and party crashing.
  • Where da White Women At?: Same as the play, plus a not-too-subtle Ho Yay; with Army recruit examiners singing the same song, intercut with the women's performance.