Walter Michael Harris Joins the Cast of Hair

Walter Michael Harris Joins the Cast of Hair

Sixteen-year-old Walter Michael Harris was the youngest cast member in the Broadway version, though he hadn’t appeared in the previous Off-Broadway productions. He had seen the show when it played at the midtown disco the Cheetah—a transitional production that split the difference between its more stilted debut at the Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and the explosive Broadway version. Hair was constantly evolving in the lead‑up to its Broadway debut. Show creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni continued working on the script and songs at the same time Tom O’Horgan held auditions, which is how Harris got involved. When he accompanied a friend on piano during Hair’s open auditions, O’Horgan asked him if he wanted to try out. “Well, if you’re involved, Tom, then yes!” Harris had previously worked with the director as both an actor and musician in Foster’s Madonna in the Orchard, and also participated in a Happening that O’Horgan orchestrated at Judson Church. The Hair cast rehearsed at the Ukrainian Hall, one of the many old ballrooms located on Second Avenue. “Tom was kind, very self-effacing, not at all dictatorial as a director,” Harris recalled. “He could get tough when he needed to, but that was very rare. He was just a very soft-spoken conductor.” The word conductor was appropriate, for O’Horgan visualized scenes in musical terms—much like a flow of a symphony or a jazz composition. “I always said Tom directed the cast like they were an orchestra of flesh,” recalled Patrick. “His work was much more akin to dance and music than to what had been thought of as theater before.”

From Chapter 20 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Cheetah
Broadway & West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019