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Slide show: The Making of “Hair”

April 20, 2009 By Cindy Foss

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

When University Theatre’s production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” runs for three weekends during April and May, it will do so on a campus that was once the Midwest epicenter of an anti-establishment movement, and it will play to an audience that still today is grappling with issues of war and equality.

Opening on Broadway in 1968, “Hair” was American theater’s first rock musical. It instantly gained attention for its tribe of hippies who were protesting the draft and the Vietnam War; its use of profanity and nudity; and its songs — including “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In” and “Good Morning Starshine” — that quickly earned a place in popular culture.

UW-Madison’s production, which will close the theater’s season, has entailed 24 undergraduate cast members, a guest director, a grueling rehearsal schedule and an ambitious goal of being as authentic as possible. The costume designer prowled vintage clothing stores in New York City and elsewhere to find the jeans, fringed vests, love beads and headbands that defined the era and to create the show’s 100 costumes. During November auditions, cast hopefuls were warned that those selected would be forbidden to cut their hair until after the last curtain falls. And set designers made a 660-mile journey to hunt down a classic VW bus they could bring back to Madison and decorate with iconic colors, flowers and peace signs.

In a new twist on some of the show’s lyrics, staging “Hair” has been “easy to be hard.” Pulling together the details in time for opening night has required a tribe of its own. In addition to the actors on stage, the production has involved three directors/choreographers and three shop managers, and a multitude of roles filled primarily by students: four designers, two dramaturges (who help research a performance’s history and context), nine band members, 33 set builders, 18 costume makers, 34 lighting/sound crew members and 17 backstage personnel.

The critical pieces — costumes, rehearsals, stage set and lighting/sound — captured in the accompanying audio slide show have coalesced, becoming the high-energy, multilayered story that will be told during performances scheduled for April 17-19, 23-26 and 30, and May 1-2.

Putting it all together has been a labor of love for the cast members, who have devoted some 27 hours per week to rehearsals starting in late February (with 20 hours during Easter weekend alone), while carrying a course load of 16 credits, on average.

Guest director Stephen Rothman, a faculty member at California State University, Los Angeles, has made numerous trips between Los Angeles and Madison during the past two months. He says the “caliber and quality of the folks who work [at UW–Madison]” factored heavily into his decision to become a frequent flyer while directing the production. Rothman, who himself sports long hair and has worn tie-dyed or rock band T-shirts during rehearsals, says he has wanted to direct “Hair” from the time he first saw it performed in 1969.

For tickets, visit, call 265-ARTS or visit the box offices in Vilas Hall or the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Watch and listen to the making of “Hair” »