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James Rado, of ‘Hair,’ dies at 90

He co-created hippie musical, paved way for rock on Broadway by MARK KENNEDY The Associated Press | June 23, 2022 at 4:08 a.m.
Creators of "Hair" James Rado, left, and Galt MacDermot attend the opening night of the Broadway musical "Hair", in New York, on March 31, 2009. Rado died Tuesday night, June 21, 2022 in New York of cardio respiratory arrest, according to friend and publicist Merle Frimark. He was 90. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)

NEW YORK -- James Rado, co-creator of the groundbreaking hippie musical "Hair," which celebrated protest, pot and free-love, and paved the way for the sound of rock on Broadway, has died. He was 90.

Rado died Tuesday night in New York City of cardio respiratory arrest, said friend and publicist Merle Frimark.

"Hair," which has a story and lyrics by Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, was the first rock musical on Broadway, the first Broadway show to feature full nudity and the first to feature a same-sex kiss.

Tributes came in from the theater world, including Andre De Shields, who tweeted "Rest in power, James Rado," to playwright Michael Jackson, whose "A Strange Loop" just won the Tony Award for best new musical. He tweeted "rest in peace."

"Hair" made possible other rock musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Rent." Like "Hamilton," it was one of only a handful of Broadway shows in the past few decades to find its songs on the pop charts.

The so-called "American tribal love-rock musical" had its world premiere at the Public Theater in New York City's East Village in 1967 and transferred the next year to Broadway, where it ran more than 1,800 performances. Rado played Claude, a young man about to be drafted and sent to the war in Vietnam.

Clive Barnes, theater critic for The New York Times, called the show "the first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday." The New York Post said it had "unintentional charm," contagious high spirits and a "young zestfulness" that "make it difficult to resist." Variety, however, called it "loony."

It lost the Tony in 1969 to the more traditional "1776" but won a Grammy Award. The show was revived on Broadway in 1977 and again in 2009, when it won the best revival Tony. It was made into a movie directed by Milos Forman in 1979 starring Treat Williams and Beverly D'Angelo.

"Hair" spawned four top-four singles on the American pop charts, including the No. 1 hit "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" by the Fifth Dimension, which won the Grammy Award for record of the year and best pop vocal performance by a group in 1970.

Others included "Hair" by the Cowsills, "Good Morning, Starshine" by the singer Oliver and "Easy to Be Hard" by Three Dog Night. The cast album itself stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks.

"Hair" tells the story of Claude and Berger, best buddies who find freedom in the late 1960s. Between draft-card burnings, love-ins, bad LSD trips and a parade of protest marches, the two wander through a New York filled with flower children, drugged-out hippies and outraged tourists who don't approve of the wild goings-on. In one song, Claude poignantly sings, "Why do I live, why do I die, tell me where do I go, tell me why."

The show is playful and chaotic, but there's also a sense of outrage in its protests against war, racism, sexism, pollution and the general hypocrisy of an era dominated by the American involvement in Vietnam.

"I'd still like 'Hair' to be about what it was about then," Rado said in 1993. "'Hair' had a spiritual message, and it has a mystical message I hope is coming through -- there's more to life than the way it's been devised for us, explained to us, taught to us."

The songs of "Hair" have been used in everything from the films "Forrest Gump," "Minions" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" to TV shows like "Glee," "So You Think You Can Dance" and "My Name Is Earl." Billboard magazine lists "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" at No. 66 of all-time top 100 songs.

In 2019, the original 1968 Broadway cast recording was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden deemed "these aural treasures worthy of preservation because of their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation's recorded sound heritage."

Print Headline: James Rado, of ‘Hair’, dies at 90

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