About the author:
Since making her Broadway debut as Mark’s mom and other roles in Rent, Caren Lyn Tackett (formerly billed as Caren Lyn Manuel) has appeared on Broadway in High Fidelity and Brooklyn and toured in musicals ranging from Les Miz to Grease. Three summers ago, when Hair was prepping for a full production in Central Park, Tackett was back in Rent and unsure about auditioning for the lead role of Sheila in a limited run of the classic musical. As she explains in a heartfelt essay for Broadway.com, the decision to enter the magical world of Hair was life-changing—and getting a surprise Broadway run in the show in the summer of 2011 is even better. Enjoy Tackett’s reflections on Hair, then head to the St. James Theatre to hear her sing “Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine” as Sheila.
Everything comes full circle.
Hair was my parents' first date. They saw the tour in Boston in 1969. So I'm glad and thankful that they dug it. Otherwise, I might not be here.
I hadn't planned on auditioning for Hair in Central Park in 2008. If I booked it, I'd have to leave my Rent family during its last months on Broadway. My husband, Jeremy, would have to start working instead of being a stay-at-home dad to our infant, Ravyn Sioux. Being new parents was enough of a transition; another huge one was something we couldn't fathom.
But I couldn't get out of my head how much I wanted to be a part of such an historic and beautiful show with its many powerful messages...and that INCREDIBLE music. The stars aligned in my favor, and I booked the role of Sheila. I was elated but confused; leaving Rent was not an easy decision. I asked our director, Michael Greif, what he thought I should do. He generously shared his personal experience with the Public Theater and spoke of how Rent composer Jonathan Larson was greatly influenced by Hair. With Michael's blessing, I left and dived into this epic experience that is Hair.
Performing Hair in the park in '08 gave me a taste— just a taste—of what it must have felt like during the original production, when the actors would meet people at the stage door holding their draft cards, asking what they should do. In 2008, our country was tense with the upcoming election and the "war on terror," but that summer, the atmosphere in the park was electric. Hair was necessary. This work of art, created more than 40 years ago was (and is) still entirely relevant. We saw and felt it on the faces and in the chemistry of all who waited in huge lines for free tickets and experienced it with us.
I'll never be able to convey the feeling of living this show in a theater with no roof. I felt one with nature, even supported by it, as we sang out our message of FREEDOM and PEACE and LOVE…NOW! Helicopters flew overhead at exactly the right time. The wind blew our hair. When Woof said "Look at the moon," we would. And I'll never forget the rain. Lying on the ground, "ripped open by metal explosion," eyes closed, it fell. We kept going. The audience cheered like crazy. Eventually, it got too dangerous to stay on stage, so we rushed for cover while they held the show. The audience stayed. The rain cleared, and we continued. I was soaking wet and FULLY ALIVE. It may be the best moment I've ever experienced in theater.
Before Hair’s transfer to Broadway, I accepted an offer to play Mrs. C on Rent’s Farewell Tour, starring Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal. My husband and I decided it was the perfect time to take our little girl traveling. What a perfect decision it was. The relationships and memories I have from the Rent tour are invaluable, and it put the gypsy bug right into our little one. (The performing bug was already there.)
In the meantime, Hair opened on Broadway, and was a hit! It was heartbreaking to miss that experience with the Tribe, but I was happy for them…and I certainly wouldn't have been able to take my entire family to London. Everything was proper.
After the Rent tour closed, my family and I were looking forward to “settling down.” We fell in love with Providence on tour and moved there. My husband got a “normal” job. Months later, while I was picking up dinner, my phone rang. It was the Public Theater casting director, offering me the role of Sheila on the Hair tour. I had no idea what to say. I got off the phone and circled the block, listening to "Flesh Failures" from the original Hair cast recording. Hearing that guitar, hearing Jim Rado’s voice sing, "We starve, look at one another short of breath, walking proudly in our winter coats, wearing smells from laboratories, facing a dying nation." My body broke out in goose bumps and I knew that my gypsy family and I were destined to hit the road again, taking Hair’s beautiful music and message to the many different mindsets and cultures within our country. I also knew I wasn't finished with Sheila, or with Hair. I talked it over with my husband, and three days later we were in NYC for rehearsals.
Touring with Hair has been a thrilling adventure—a fantastic learning process about the land and people of this beautiful country. In some cities, crowds would go wild and sing along, jumping at the chance to interact with us. In others, audiences were conservative and therefore more challenging for performers who actually climb out into the seats and try to connect with people physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
At the Colonial Theater in Boston, they announced that Hair would spend a “Summer of Love” on Broadway. Boston is my hometown, where I booked my first professional show, which played the Colonial back in '95. FULL. FRICKIN. CIRCLE. When I joined the tour, the possibility of going to Broadway didn’t even cross my mind. Now I'm sitting in my dressing room at the St. James Theater, and I don't think I can truly express the rewarding, exhilarating, loving and surreal feelings that move me nightly on this stage. I am struck by memories of the park, the incredible road to this moment. It is an honor to join this Tribe in gifting Hair to this loving and supportive NYC audience, who have welcomed us back with such love! A few days ago, a group of NYU students sang "Aquarius" to us as we came out of the stage door. It is wonderful to be here.
My daughter, Ravyn Sioux, took some of her first steps on that grassy stage in Central Park. Now she joins me on stage at least once a week, all over the country, shaking her hair around, holding up her peace fingers and singing "Let the Sun Shine In" to thousands. Just before opening night, she let loose on a Broadway stage, spreading the love and enjoying every moment. My Hair-y journey has been a deeply special blessing for my whole family, surpassing my wildest hopes.