James Rado, who propelled Broadway into the Age of Aquarius as co-creator of “Hair,” the show billed as an “American tribal love rock musical,” which transfigured the musical theater tradition with the radical iconoclasm of the ’60s and rock ‘n’ roll, died Tuesday night in Manhattan. He was 90.
Publicist Merle Frimark, a longtime friend, said her cause of death, at a hospital, was cardiorespiratory arrest.
Much of “Hair’s” power lay in its apparent raw spontaneity, but Mr. Rado worked on it for years with collaborator Gerome Ragni to perfect that effect. Contrary to theatrical lore, he and Mr. Ragni were not out-of-work actors who wrote “Hair” to generate roles they could play themselves, but regulars on the New York stage with mounting résumés.
They met as cast members in an Off Broadway revue called “Hang Down Your Head and Die,” a London transfer that closed after one performance in October 1964. Mr. Rado joined Mr. Ragni and was soon talking to him about collaborating on a musical that would capture the exuberant and increasingly anti-establishment youth culture rising around him on the streets of Lower Manhattan: a musical about hippies before hippies had a name.
A musician before he became an actor, Rado began writing songs with Ragni, who would sometimes sing in what were then beatnik coffee shops in Greenwich Village.
Moving into an apartment in Hoboken, NJ, where rents were even cheaper than midtown Manhattan, they borrowed a typewriter from the landlord and went to work in earnest writing their musical, transcribing sexual liberation into songs. , racial integration, pharmacological experimentation and opposition. to the escalation of the Vietnam War that was galvanizing the young street archetypes of him. (They would later recruit Galt MacDermot to write new melodies for his lyrics.) In solidarity, Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni also started growing their hair short.
A full obituary will be published shortly.