By Ann Harris and Walter Michael Harris
Ann: In autumn 1967 Walter was sixteen and attending the High School of Music and Art. A friend of his asked him to play piano for his audition for HAIR. Walter said “yes” and when the audition ended, Tom O’Horgan, the director, asked if he would like to audition too. So Walt did, and got the part. It was a happy day. Walter was the youngest member of the original Broadway cast. HAIR rehearsed at Ukrainian Hall one-half block from our Ninth Street apartment, and opened April 29 the following year.
Walter Michael: My interest in education was waning. Exhausted from so much after-school theater, I was caught between adolescence and adulthood and surrounded by a seismic cultural shift. The youth counterculture movement was forcing the country to reevaluate its values and priorities.
Although busier than ever as a working actor and musician I was unsure of my place in the world. . My year with HAIR (April 1968 – March 1969) yanked me out of my insecurity and self-doubt and thrust me into the vortex of the youth counterculture, political awareness and a cathartic theatrical experience that changed everything.
The company included the co-authors, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, in the lead roles of Berger and Claude. A handful of actors from the initial Public Theater production were held over. New faces included La MaMa players like Jon Kramer and myself; plus amateurs, pros and people off the street. The chemistry between the authors, the composer and band, the cast and designers, our courageous producer Michael Butler and La MaMa director Tom O’Horgan, produced a hit musical that connected with audiences and critics. Clive Barnes, writing for the New York Times, declared that HAIR was “the first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday.”
HAIR was a smash hit. The cast enjoyed delivering and living HAIR’s powerful anti-war message eight times a week, set to Galt MacDermot’s pulsating score. Shows sold out months in advance. After opening night our company knew that HAIR was more than mere entertainment. We believed it was an experience with the potential to end the Vietnam War, unite the planet and usher in the Age of Aquarius.
From the Harris family’s new memoir, Caravan to Oz: a family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway, © 2014.
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