James Rado, who propelled Broadway into the Aquarian era as co-creator of “Hair,” the show billed as an “American tribal love-rock musical,” which transformed the musical theater tradition with radical ’60s iconoclasm and rock ‘n’ roll , died Tuesday night in Manhattan. He was 90.
Publicist Merle Frimark, a longtime friend, said the cause of his death in a hospital was cardiac arrest.
So much of the power of “Her” was in his seemingly raw spontaneity, but Mr. Rado worked for years with his collaborator Gerome Ragni to perfect that effect. Contrary to theatrical knowledge, he and Mr. Ragni were not unemployed actors who wrote “Hair” to create roles they could play themselves, but New York regulars with growing resumes.
They met as cast members in an Off Broadway revue called “Hang Down Your Head and Die,” a transfer to London that closed after a performance in October 1964. Rado bonded with Mr. Ragni and soon spoke to him about collaborating on a musical that would capture the lavish, increasingly anti-establishment youth culture that sprang up all around them on the streets of lower Manhattan—a musical about hippies before hippies had a name.
A musician before becoming an actor, Mr. Rado began writing songs with Mr. Ragni, which they sometimes sang in the then-beatnik coffee houses in Greenwich Village.
When they moved to an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the rent was even cheaper than in midtown Manhattan, they borrowed a typewriter from their landlord and got to work writing their musical, the sexual liberation, racial integration, pharmacological experiments and opposition into song. to the escalating Vietnam War that fueled their young street archetypes. (They later enlisted Galt MacDermot to write new melodies for their lyrics.) Out of solidarity, Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni also started growing their short hair long.
A full obituary will be published shortly.