Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni, meanwhile, had decided that their lyrics needed better melodies than the ones they had written, and set out to find a legitimate composer to improve the songs. The search gave Canadian-born Galt MacDermot a most unlikely choice: he was slightly older than his colleagues and a straight arrow with an eclectic musical background but little Broadway experience. Mr. MacDermot wrote the melody for the versions of “Aquarius” and several other songs, on request, in less than 36 hours. It immediately became clear that he was the perfect choice to set the lyrical ruminations of Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni to rock show music.
A demo soon followed in Mr. Papp’s office, with Mr. MacDermot singing along and playing the trio’s new songs. Impressed, Mr. Papp announced that he would open the Public with “Hair”.
Still, questioning himself, he quickly rescinded his offer, only to reconsider after a return office audition, this time with Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni on vocals. “Hair” actually opened the Public Theater on October 17, 1967, with 32-year-old Mr. Ragni leading the cast as George Berger – the nominal leader of a hippie tribe – but without the 35-year-old. Mr. Rado, who was deemed too old by series director Gerald Freedman to play doomed protagonist Claude Hooper Bukowski, even though the character was based almost entirely on Mr. Rado himself.
“Hair” – an impressionistic fairy tale of a flock of flower children on the streets of New York taking LSD, burning draft cards, shocking tourists and making love before losing their conflicted comrade, Claude , to the Vietnam War – ran for eight weeks at the public’s brand new Anspacher Theater, generating ecstatic word of mouth and reviews ranging from baffled to grateful.
A wealthy young Midwesterner with political ambitions and strong anti-war politics named Michael Butler stepped in to move the show, first to Cheetah, a nightclub on West 53rd Street, then – much rewritten by Mr. Rado and his collaborators, and with a new visionary director, Tom O’Horgan, now in charge – on Broadway, where Mr. Rado was restored to the cast as Claude.