The hippie movement was a time that began in the 1960’s that rebuffed the customary thought of the culture in the United States and demanded change. It was at this time when civil rights for minorities and women peaked at an all-time high.
Demonstrations flourished and women burned their bras in protest of the oppression they felt from the establishment at the time. One of the best ways to help a movement move along is with music and this era was no different in that.
It was the hippie movement that inspired this list of our four favorite hippie musicals.
This popular musical, which originated as a jukebox musical and was remade later with original songs, is set in the early sixties but successfully represents the struggles that would later define the hippie movement.
Tracey Turnblad is the central character in this work, originally by John Waters. She is a heavyset girl who wants to dance on the popular Baltimore television program The Corny Collins Show. When she makes it as a regular dancer Tracey is targeted by the shows resident brat Amber Von Tussle.
Even though it is customary for our culture to spurn those that do not look a certain way Tracey becomes beloved by all. This new popularity does great things for her father’s store, which is a comedy shop. Her mother, Edna, is also an obese woman ashamed of her figure. But Tracey insists that her mother shred her shame and come out to see the new Baltimore.
Tracey and her mother make their way to Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway and they soon learn that big can be beautiful. Tracey welcomes her mother to the sixties and insists that the times are indeed a changing.
One particular issue Tracey takes on is that of integration. While The Corny Collins Show was indeed Tracey’s favorite and she was proud to be a part of it, there was only one day a month where her friends of African-American consent were able to dance and display their talents, and that was called negro-day.
Of course, not only Tracey was an advocate for the show’s integration, Motormouth Mabel, a local Baltimore radio and music personality, an African-American, was going to see to it that her children would get the same opportunities as the white kids. They hold a demonstration demanding integration but Tracey finds herself incarcerated and then a refugee of the law.
While on the lam Tracey reunites with her friends Penny, Seaweed, and her hunk of a boyfriend Link. They unite and decide that it is time to make the change themselves. Tracey pulls a surprise visit on the set just after her nemesis Amber is crowned “Miss Teenage Hairspray.”
It is at this particular taping of The Corny Collins Show where integration is finally achieved despite the opposition of the show’s producers. Seaweed and Penny announce their interracial checkerboard love to the world much to her conservative and religious mother’s dismay.
In the end, the show is integrated with dancers of all colors and Corny couldn’t be happier. Motormouth Mabel joins him at the helm and the crowd dances in jubilee at the changes are before them. So, even though this particular musical highlights the pre-hippie fashions it is the perfect work to slip us into this category, specifically because it documents a fictional moment when the hippie movement was about to pounce onto Baltimore.
The UK Tour for Hairspray will begin a year from now! Keep an eye on their website for updates.
Starting as a venture to be performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Written by Stephen Schwartz this hippie musical first premiered off Broadway on May 17, 1971. It eventually made its way to Broadway and has been reproduced on numerous occasions.
This musical is based on the New Testament parables in the Gospel of Matthew, but set to modern music. While the subject matter was rather serious to Christians this retelling was set to slap-stick humor that some followers of the New Testament found to be blasphemous. It was this rebellion and what it represented against the religious establishment that places Godspell on our hippie list today.
Godspell opens with Jesus speaking in his Father’s voice proclaiming that he is supreme. Next enter several philosophers who announce their ideologies and viewpoints originally as solo performances and then in a chorus of debate.
Enter John the Baptist ordering everyone to remain peaceful as he blows on his shofar, an ancient Hebrew horn made from a ram’s spike. True to his name he baptizes the group and the group of philosophers exit. John then begins to preach while Jesus sits back and takes it in. Suddenly, Jesus realizes he would like to be baptized as well John grants him his wish. The other philosophers come back out and they sing “Save the People.”
This is the point where the first parable is explained by Jesus. He tells them he was not sent there to eradicate the law and denounce the other prophets but to finish their message. It is at this point in the original production where the group wore clown makeup, which was seen as blasphemous. Jesus goes on to explain to the company that they need to heed God’s laws and if they do, they will secure their seats next to God in the Kingdom of Heaven.
From there the company has a better understanding of Jesus’ message and they start to tell the tale of the Pharisees. Jesus continues his teachings with an explanation of the law concerning the gifts offered at the altar, namely the body and blood of Jesus. He insists that before any of the company advances toward the altar of God must be pure of heart and soul.
The company quickly moves to tell the story of a master and a debt owed to him by one of his servants. When he cannot pay the servant is sent to prison. Jesus enlightens the crowd with the moral that one should “forgive your brothers from your heart.”
Godspell takes a unique turn here when the group begins to play charades. In later productions the cast would play with the audience. It then goes on with Jesus teaching us that we need to “love” our “enemies” and escalates to the parable of Lazarus, who is a rich man. Jesus insists that we cannot have two loves in our lives. We need to choose either God or money but asserts that we cannot “serve two masters.”
This musical on our list is arguable the quintessential hippie musical of the 1960s. With a book and lyrics written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt Mac Dermot, Hair is a direct result of the hippie counterculture we are discussing. Besides challenging the religious establishment like Godspell, Hair also touched on the sexual revolution that became the center of the late sixties.
Musically this story centers around a group of hippies in New York City living a bohemian lifestyle. They sing of the “Age of Aquarius” and vehemently oppose the Vietnam War. Claude opens the show by sitting center stage while the rest of the cast socializes with the audience. We next meet Sheila who is studying at New York University and active in the political process. Then there is Berger, an impudent uninhibited soul. They both cut off a lock of Claude’s hair and he becomes the “psychedelic teddy bear.”
Next the “tribe” lists their favorite drugs, both prescription and illegal while we move on to meet Woof, who is free spirited sexually and proclaims that he “grow[s] things.” He proclaims his love for all as Hud, a radical African-American male, is brought on stage while tied upside down to a pole. Hud tells the audience he is the “president of the United States of Love.”
Suddenly Claude is speaking in a fake English accent but the tribe calls him out on his charade and reminds the New York native he is really from Flushing. While the other men, Hud, Woof, and Berger proclaim to the audience that they are black while Claude insists that he is invisible.
This hippie musical continues in this fashion as Sheila begins a demonstration chant “Ain’t Got No (Grass)” while Jeanie, a new character, enters donning a gas mask. Jeanie has fallen in love with Claude and is pregnant by a “crazy speed freak.”
They challenge Lyndon B. Johnson, the FBI, and the CIA. Members of the tribe then dress as Claude’s parent and berate him for not having a job and cut him off financially. They claim that the army is the best place for him to finally learn to be a man.
It is then when Claude passes his draft examination and is expected to join the army. Even though this character is struggling with his being drafted, he and the company go on to sing “Hair”, which denotes the significance of leaving their locks long and flowing.
All of this only in the first act. The musical ends on the note of “Let the Sun Shine In” after the tribe goes through a series of hallucinations and meetings with Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns. Claude does eventually go to war and we find him center stage in the finally laying with a black cloth covering him.
Watch the cast of the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair perform at the Tony Awards ceremony of the same year!
4. Jesus Christ Superstar
Written by Andrew Lloyd Weber in released as a rock opera in 1973 this hippie musical began as a concept album two years earlier. In this particular musical there are no spoken words and the entirety is sung by the cast.
Lightly based on the last few weeks of Jesus’ life this musical begins when he and his disciples arrive in Jerusalem and the finale is based around the crucifixion. The content is mostly focused on the relationship between Jesus and his alleged betrayer Judas.
Still, this work focuses on Judas’ dissatisfaction with the track Jesus is leading his followers on. He loves Jesus but does not see him as only a God, he knows that Jesus is a man. Judas feels that Jesus will soon be the seen as a threat to the Romans due to all his followers and if fearful that they will be punished.
When Jesus befriends Mary Magdalene Judas warns him that associating with such a woman could be used against him. But Jesus pulls the typical “he who is without sin” thing and ignores the warnings of his friend Judas.
The high Jewish priests are also growing concerned about the group of followers Jesus has accumulated. Jesus is angered when he arrives in Jerusalem and finds the temple being used for selling weapons, prostitutes, and drugs. Mary Magdalene accompanies Jesus and when he sleeps he dreams of lepers, cripples, and beggars all asking for salvation.
Jesus Christ Superstar also touches on the supposed romantic nature of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ relationship. She finds that she loves him without condition and she is scared of that love. Meanwhile, Judas grows jealous of her and betrays Jesus by helping the Jewish priests capture him.
It is the works focus on the human side of Jesus, who was always considered Godly in writings, and the defensive stance taken on Judas that also challenged the religious establishment of the time. These themes are why Jesus Christ Superstar is the last on our list of favorite hippie musicals. Keep an eye on their website: there was a run of this musical recently at Broadway and throughout the UK – it might pop up again!
For more musicals, check out our musical genre for productions from around the world!