One morning, while I was in the library studying for a social studies exam, Clyde*, my high school pal and crush (“Friends for a Reason” – 1/17/03), enthusiastically burst through the double doors, sailed past the dusty tomes and surly librarian and began chatting excitedly about, what he claimed was, a life-changing event. The previous evening, he saw a local college theater production of the musical Hair. If you’re not familiar, Hair is a musical set in the United States during the Vietnam War. It is the story of Claude Hooper Bukowski and his hippy friends’ journeys into adulthood while they try to make sense of war, the world and themselves. Picture this: two hours of youth, anger, rock, sex, swearing and copious drug references.
Clyde was, in a word, spellbound and wanted to do our own local production right away. This idea might not sound appealing to most folks, especially to the oft-apathetic teenage crowd. However, to our group of narcissistic, tap dancing, Broadway-loving friends, his idea was a perfect way to wile away our leisure hours and, perhaps, shock our mild-mannered parents. Also, for us early 90’s-era high school kids, Hair seemed like an exciting, daring piece of art. We thought we had struck gold!
Hey Kids! Let’s Put on a Show!
Clyde took on the roles of cheerleader, director and star, while I took on the unique role I referred to as ProducerChoreographerPublicistCookTherapistDriverActress. Adults be damned! We wanted to do everything ourselves -- from soup to nuts.
The charismatic sort, Clyde was responsible for fundraising and getting a theatrical venue. Money was tight. However, a cast member’s father took pity on us and forked over $100. At the time, this was an incredible windfall. Also, Clyde was able to convince the local (decidedly progressive) Lutheran church to lend us its hall for dress rehearsals and production. Considering the sometimes-dicey subject matter, this was really quite a coup.
The People, The Publicity, The Problems
After a while, our enthusiasm became infectious. The hardware store chipped in drop cloths and paint. My aunt forked over some pairs of glittery, moth-eaten bell-bottoms. The local photo shop gave us prints for free. Also, with a single phone call, we were able to get feature articles in two large, local newspapers – including interviews and photo sessions! We couldn’t believe the attention. Frankly, we couldn’t buy publicity like this.
Problems plagued our little production, but somehow we managed to pull through. I think the worry mixed with insomnia and incredible passion for our theatrical extravaganza became the fuel that kept us all going.
Some cast members dropped out. Others joined in.
One cast member’s mother threatened to pull her out of the show when she read that a scene required her daughter to say the f-word upwards of 30 times. (We changed it to the slightly less offensive “shit.”)
Also, we had a heck of a time trying to get the feel of the period. The play required the actors (me included) to act drunk and stoned most of the time. The funny thing is that a good handful of us had never so much as seen a joint or had a sip of booze. (Again, me included. However, this would soon change after I went away to college.) So, we just kind of slurred our speech occasionally, tried to look euphoric and bumped into stuff a lot. (Uta Hagen is probably flipping over in her grave right now.)
However, little did we know that our problems were about to get far, far worse.
We had no music.
No Music, Mo’ Problems
I really didn’t give much notice to that sad fact until approximately five days before opening night. Well, actually it wasn’t that I didn’t notice. It’s that I was reassured that everything was under control. Clyde, who was friends with a local band, had offered to arrange the musical accompaniment. Admittedly this seemed rather ambitious. (The soundtrack had close to 20 songs in multiple, complicated music genres.) However, I had total faith in his people skills and powers of organization. Also, I was just pleased I didn’t have to worry about it.
So, I put my fears aside and we kept plugging away, music free. All of our rehearsals were done a cappella. The actors would practice their parts at home by crooning along with their personal copies of the original Broadway cast soundtrack. At rehearsals, we would play a starting note using a harmonica or keyboard and the actor would then sing the rest of the tune sans music. Primitive? Indeed! However, it was necessary, as not a single member of the cast played an instrument with any degree of proficiency.
Two days before our final dress rehearsal, I was really starting to get worried. The curtain was going up in four days time and the cast had never rehearsed with the music.
Finally, the day before the dress rehearsal, Clyde, head down, shuffled up to me in class and told me the fateful news.
“There is no music,” he said. “The band dropped out.”
Frantic, we discussed our options:
- Cancel the show. (Not possible. We already pre-sold a ton of tickets. Also, the cast would be devastated.)
- Sing the show a Cappella. (Awful.)
- Sing the show along with the Original Cast Recording. (Tacky & illegal.)
- Call Dad. (Bulls eye!)
My father, a lover of all things music, had played in several bands throughout his youth. In later years, he was a drummer and singer for a popular, local wedding/saloon band. I figured he was our first (and last) hope!
Clyde and I feigned some nasty ailment to our teacher and dashed to the payphone to call my father. I sheepishly relayed our predicament and begged for his assistance. To his credit, he never once criticized us or gave us a hard time. He asked to have a few minutes to work things out and offered to get back to us later in the afternoon.
Here was his solution:
His friend, Bob*, was talented and versatile musician who lived a few towns away. We (Clyde, dad and I) were to drive over to Bob’s house that evening and record the music on a tape that the cast would then sing along with. Brilliant! Hair Karaoke! My dad had saved the show!
The plan was to take over the sheet music and some snacks and bang out the soundtrack in a couple of hours in Bob’s basement studio.
At the time, none of us had any idea how wrong we would be.
The two-hour recording session turned into a fourteen-hour recording session. No breaks. No sleeping. Just music. Just Hair. All night.
Minutes slipped into hours. On more than one occasion I thought I was going to keel over from exhaustion and excessive exposure to Broadway show tunes. (To date, I still can’t listen to the song “Manchester England” without being hit by a wave of terror and nausea.) Regardless, after many hours and gallons of coffee, we all managed to plow through and record an entire musical soundtrack, in a single evening -- an amazing feat.
At 8 a.m. the next day, exhausted and relieved we emerged from Bob’s basement, tape in hand and began preparing for the evening’s dress rehearsal…
To Be Continued.
* Names have been changed.