Hair The Musical opened for previews on April 11, 1968. Officially opening on April 29, 1968 it went on to run a total of 1750 shows before closing on July 01, 1972. It was at the Biltmore Theatre now known as The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. During the lifetime of the show, it was nominated for three awards, one of which it won.
One of the main features of the show was a special effect that allowed multiple lights to switch on and off through the use of a cam driven motor. This motor drove a series of 8 cam’s around that intern activated switches to control the light. The motor was variable between 10RPM and 30RPM and allowed lighting such as beacons to strobe or the lights on a Christmas tree to flash. The device (Pictured below) was large and bulky, also, due to the effect relying on moving parts, it would have required maintenance and would run the risk of braking.
Image from The Lighting Database
As you can see, the effect required a lot more room than the comparable effect today as today, the effect would be created via software and likely delivered to the fixture using a protocol such as DMX. This allowed the show to become one of the first shows to use strobe lighting in Broadway, having already been developed in night clubs. The show also featured police style rotating lights, again something that hadn’t been seen much on broadway before.
A major limitation of the time was the inability to do a crossfade with new technicians leading the way to develop the methods required. Originally, all the channels would be locked together, dimmed to certain value, unlocked and the rest would continue to dim until the crossfade was done. The new technicians developed methods of using strings and pulleys along with body parts such as there elbows to successfully crossfade between lights in 3 seconds. This shows a point where lighting developed and lead to modern day lighting where again, a crossfade can be accomplished with some simple programming in a recorded cue.
Due to this level of complexity and the fact the show was run from two piano style lighting consoles, the operator was unable to look at their cue books or a script as they were always getting things ready for the next cue or actually running the cue. This meant that the operator had the remember every lighting change for the show and exactly what had to be done and when.
If the show was to be recreated using modern technology, a standard theatrical lighting desk such as the ETC Ion could effectively be used to achieve the same and many more effects and transitions. For example, the show could become more complex as the operator doesn’t need to remember every change. This opens the door to the possibility of using moving lights and more powerful strobes and special lighting unlike the simple cam driven strobe effects from the original show.
Full details of the show including hookup charts, focus charts, lighting designer notes and more can be found on The New York Public Library & Lighting Archive’s Theatrical Database.