New Line Theatre director Scott Miller says that last season, after several performances of the musical Hair, a few audience members approached the cast and accused them of smoking pot onstage. In truth, says Miller, those joints are definitely fake, but the herbal tobacco inside them does yield a familiar smell when lit. "We could not get through the end of the show if we were smoking pot," insists Miller.
The themes of Hair, first performed in 1967, include illegal drug use, racism and loving thy neighbor-- spiritually and orifice-wise. None of these topics has lost much relevance. In the words of Miller, taken from an essay on the musical that can be found on his New Line Web site, "Why did we send American soldiers halfway around the world to Vietnam to kill strangers when there was no direct threat to our country? Why can't we talk openly about sex? Why are certain words 'dirty' and other words that mean the same thing acceptable? Why are there so many offensive words for black people but hardly any for white people? Why are so many straight people interested in what gay people do in private? If the Constitution guarantees free speech, why can't we burn the flag? Is it right to protest and refuse to follow laws which are unjust?"
Maybe it's these still-topical questions that helped sell out last season's run of Hair, leading New Line to bring it back for an open-ended run. Maybe those are also good explanations for the famous bonding among each cast that comes together to perform the show. It's customary for the "tribe," as each bewigged gang of singing hippies is called, to adopt the name of the Native American tribe that once roamed the grounds where the theater sits. The current New Liners thus refer to themselves as the "Osage tribe."
And the Osage have some pretty groovy rituals: "Fifteen minutes before we start, the tribe goes out into the audience and hands out daisies." says Miller. "It sets the stage perfectly for everything that's coming."