Debuting off Broadway in 1967 and on Broadway in 1968, Hair is the rock musical that defined a generation. Show creators and close friends James Rado and Gerome Ragni set out to capture the countercultural zeitgeist that was unfolding around them, basing lead characters Claude and Berger on themselves, and the rest of the ensemble on the people in their everyday lives. In fact, they recruited some of the original cast at Be-Ins and other happenings they attended.
Hair was, and remains, incredibly popular, largely due to its authenticity. It ran for 1,750 performances in its initial Broadway run, while simultaneously running in London’s West End. By 1970, 19 international productions had been staged. Since then, it has been revived twice on Broadway and twice on the West End, and has played countless times in school, local, and professional theaters around the world.
In 1979, a film adaption, also called Hair, was released. Though its reception was generally positive, original show creators Rado and Ragni felt it missed the mark completely. Regardless of opinion on its merits, though, there is no denying that significant changes were made for the film. Here are some of the biggest differences between the musical and the movie.
In the musical, Claude is a central member of the tribe when the show opens. He receives his draft card midway through Act I and struggles with what to do. In the film, Claude is a naïve draftee from Oklahoma who meets the tribe in New York while waiting to ship out.
In the musical, Sheila is a key member of the tribe, while in the film, she is a socialite who enjoys the excitement of illicitly meeting up with the tribe.
Berger is a free spirit in the musical and remains so throughout. In the film, he sacrifices himself for Claude.
The biggest change from the musical to the film is the character death. In the musical, Claude finally decides to go to Vietnam, where he is killed. In the film, Claude also decides to go to Vietnam. But the tribe drives out to Claude’s Army training center to say goodbye, and Berger switches places with him to give Claude one final night with tribe. The soldiers are deployed that night, and Berger, still posing as Claude, is the one who gets killed in Vietnam.
Because of the plot changes, many of the songs had to be rearranged, shortened, or otherwise altered. In addition, 10 songs were cut and two were used only as background or instrumentals. Five of the cut songs were recorded for the film but not used, and these appear on some versions of the soundtrack.
Hair the musical was created during the hippie movement. Hair the film was a retrospective look at the hippie movement. This key difference led to numerous changes in the thematic focuses of the two productions. The musical explores themes of racism, pacifism, sexual freedom, drug use, religion, and literary symbolism in a deeply personal way. While these themes are also present in the movie, the film “zooms out” a bit, examining the hippies themselves rather than digging as deeply into their beliefs.
Both versions of Hair have been well received, and both are worth seeing. However, to understand the story as it was originally conceived, it is worth seeking out a production of the musical.
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