Boston, May 26 - - Hair, uncut and uncensored, reopened Saturday (23) at the Wilbur Theatre here, after getting new life from a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down friday (22). It was the first performance of the musical since April 9, when the producer, Michael Butler, shuttered the show rather than comply with cuts and removal of nude scene requested by local authorities. An announcement from the stage between acts said "We are appearing tonight because the United States Supreme Court felt it could not censor the feelings and words of young people."
During the six-week shuttering and the litigation, a backlog of 50,000 tickets piled up, and refunds of over $200,000 of the $800,000 advance were made. A special box-office staff is exchanging tickets, and ads for mail orders are running again. At the full house Saturday night, the audience was told that for each person in tonight's (Tues.) audience, Butler will donate $1 to the UN World Youth Assembly, a meeting scheduled for new York in July.
The U.S. Supreme Court on a 4-4 vote cleared the way for the reopening of the rock musical immediately, but the management figured the time was too short to give a performance friday night. Two shows were given Saturday. The high court's decision was seen as a victory not only for Hair but for film exhibitors, night clubs, exotic dancers, etc., all of whom are covered by the Massachusetts obscenity laws.
Film exhibitors had reportedly been eliminating nude scenes and other potentially actionable material from pictures exhibited in Boston, and cabarets had been toning down exotic shows. By declining to interfere with a massachusetts superior court's veto of prosecution by the local District Attorney, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a go-ahead for the presentation of Hair at least until next fall, when it will take up the case involving the state's obscenity laws.
Specifically, the high court denied the application by Attorney General Robert H. Quinn and Suffolk County District Attorney Garret H. Byrne to delay an injunction issued may 6 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court at Boston. That injunction restrained the D.A. from prosecuting the Hair cast, which he had been free to do under a decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. That ruling stated that the scenes in question violated state law forbidding lewd and lascivious conduct and indecent exposure.
The Federal Court panel, in issuing its injunction on a 2-1 vote, held the Massachusetts high court decision to be unconstitutional in that it could have a "chilling effect on the right of free expression" guaranteed the actors and producers by the First Amendment. The Massachusetts authorities immediately began an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and obtained a temporary stay of the injunction. The stay reached its limit Friday (22), and the high court would not continue it.
The D.A. said "The Supreme Court has acted and that's it." Massachusetts authorities still will have the issue of the federal Court ruling decided by the Supreme Court, but the case cannot be heard until next fall, at the earliest.
The four Supreme Court justices whose votes permitted Hair to reopen were William O. Douglas, WIlliam J. Brennan Jr., Byron R. White and Thurgood Marshall. Marshall voted from his hospital bed in Bethesda, Md., where he is recovering from pneumonia. Chief Justice Warren E. BErger and Justices Hugo L. Black, John M. Harlan and Potter Stewart voted to continue blockage of the Federal Court's injunction.