Hair and Rock in Musical Theatre
In 1967, a new musical opened in New York that would change the nature of musical theatre. The musical was born out of the sexual revolution and hippy culture of the 1960s and is most famous for its nude scene at the end of the first act.
Hair brought to Broadway things that had rarely or never been attempted in a musical. The most notable of these is the use of rock instruments, particularly those that need amplification: electric guitar, electric bass guitar and synthesizer. The inclusion of these instruments necessitated the need for singers to be amplified – something that had not been done in the past. In the past, like in opera, orchestrations were designed to support the singers and singers needed to be trained in the efficient use of their voices to be heard over orchestras. This environment influenced the type of music written for the musical theatre: often for classical sounding soprano and mezzo soprano voices and eventually, with the popularity of Ethel Merman, the belting mezzo soprano. The introduction of microphones and amplified instruments allowed for many more less trained or untrained voices (ie: not classical voices) to be heard in the theatre and for more intimacy in the vocal writing. The effects of which have left a lasting mark on the genre today.
Hair can be described as both a rock musical (for obvious reasons) and a concept musical (a show that may be based loosely around a narrative but is more concerned with the exploration of a theme or a topic). Subsequent shows that can be described as “rock musicals” include Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent and Ghost among hordes of others that utilise rock instruments in various forms. Subsequent shows that can be described as concept musicals include Company (explores the theme of relationships) and A Chorus Line (explores the life of a dancer).
Here is the finale of the musical: Broadway Cast – The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In) – Spotify