Though it savvily repackaged the counterculture, making it safe for the masses, Tom O’Horgan’s staging retained a subversive spark. “Hair was an antiwar play,” Walter Michael Harris emphasized. “It wasn’t ‘happy hippies doing their trippy thing,’ which is what a lot of people think about when they think about Hair today. In Tom’s hands, it was really quite focused on opposition to the war in Vietnam—which was a big, big reason why it was written to begin with. I know Jim and Gerry were really fascinated with youth culture at the time, and what the young people were doing and saying and thinking, and what their hopes and dreams were.” The final number, “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In),” could easily be reduced to a hippie cliché, but it was a sober reminder of the horrors of the Vietnam War when the death of Hair’s main character, Claude, was revealed on the Biltmore Theatre’s stage. “Nobody was smiling, nobody was waving the peace sign, nobody had flowers, it was very serious stuff,” Harris recalled. “What the audience saw was Claude laid out on a funeral bier, on top of the American flag, dead.” It was a shocker, a belly punch to the audience—who were left in darkness for a minute before the curtain call, contemplating what they had just seen.
From Chapter 20 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore