During the mid-1960s, Central Park was host to a series of antiwar gatherings and "Be-ins," patchouli-laced celebrations of nonconformity...

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During the mid-1960s, Central Park was host to a series of antiwar gatherings and “Be-ins,” patchouli-laced celebrations of nonconformity.

Actor/writer James Rado attended one of the events with his friend/collaborator, Gerome “Jerry” Ragni, and witnessed something surreal.

“There was a commotion just over the rise of land,” says Rado, 76. “These two men had taken their clothes off and were just standing there, completely naked.”

It wasn’t performance art. The men had disrobed simply to antagonize the police, but their act of spontaneity spurred Rado and Ragni to create one of Broadway’s most indelible moments. They added a nude scene to the show they were penning, “Hair,” subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”

The Central Park episode is considerably more elaborate as depicted on stage. At the end of the first act, a group of cast members emerge unclothed, chanting “beads, flowers, freedom, happiness.”

“It’s like a supernatural vortex,” says Rado. “Being naked in front of an audience, you’re baring your soul. Not only the soul but the whole body was being exposed. It was very apt, very honest and almost necessary.”

Last Tuesday, a revival debuted at the Delacorte Theater. The free Shakespeare in the Park production replete with nude scene runs through Aug. 31.

The new version of the show grew out of a successful concert presentation last year starring Jonathan Groff (“Spring Awakening”), who now leads the cast. The director is Diane Paulus (“The Donkey Show”). The revival brings “Hair” back to its roots in the park where Rado and Ragni found inspiration hanging out with the bohemians.

“All the stuff that was happening was highly theatrical,” says Rado. “It was so exciting and full of such passion and emotion. We thought, ‘Let’s just put this on a stage.’ “

When “Hair” opened at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968, the stars aligned and a classic was born. The musical was bold and unique, featuring topical words set to exuberant melodies. It was more a mood piece than a linear story, centered on a group of young activists led by two friends, Claude (Rado) and Berger (Ragni), who experiment with drugs and ritualized sex.

The rock opera, a product of experimental theater, ran for more than four years at the Biltmore. While it didn’t win a Tony, the show spawned platinum records, reunion concerts, international road companies and a 1979 film.

The Public Theater marked its grand opening on Oct. 17, 1967, with an early incarnation of “Hair,” produced by Joseph Papp. Audience response was so enthusiastic, it made history as the first show to segue from off-Broadway to Broadway, radically revamped in the process.

“Hair” predated “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” even the album “Tommy.” Its crossover hit songs included “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Easy to be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine.”

“I knew from the start this would be a tremendous thing for people to see,” says Michael Butler, a tycoon-turned-producer who funded the Biltmore version and presented his own revival in Los Angeles last year. “I felt that it was a communication between generations, between the younger people and the older people.”

“Hair” introduced a new generation of acting/singing talent. Notable members of the Broadway tribe included Diane Keaton, Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine and Melba Moore. Before she turned disco queen, Donna Summer was a dancing teen hippie in a German production of the musical.

“We were doing something very new and very strange,” says Moore, 62, who earned a role in the original production at age 22 despite a lack of theater experience. During her year-plus with the musical, she graduated from a supporting part to one of the leads, replacing Keaton.

Tony winner Moore describes the beginning of the show: “The lights would go down slowly and incense was burning and the actors were all over the theater, mingling with the audience. The beat came up and the cast moved in slow motion toward the stage. That graduated into full blown singing of ‘Aquarius,’ and it was like ‘Wow, this is deep.’ “

The cast underwent a nontraditional rehearsal process. Before they learned their lines and songs, they engaged in a series of sensitivity exercises led by director Tom O’Horgan, who wanted to facilitate a family vibe.

“Tom took the road less traveled,” says Vereen, 61, who was 22 when the Broadway production opened. “He got people to trust one another, to share with one another. We’d get in a circle and a person at the center would wear a blindfold. They’d have to fall and know that they would be caught, they would never hit the ground. It created a sense that somebody would always be there for you.”

Even though “Hair” is more an ensemble piece than a character study, it’s a personal story fueled by the volatile friendship between Rado and Ragni. The two met as co-stars in an off-Broadway play, “Hang Down Your Head and Die,” about capital punishment.

They decided to collaborate on their own show in order to immortalize the peace movement. The heroes of the tale were autobiographical. Rado played a pensive romantic while Ragni was his extroverted opposite. (Ragni died of cancer in 1991).

“We were great friends,” Rado says. “It was a passionate kind of relationship that we directed into creativity, into writing, into creating this piece. We put the drama between us on stage.”

Different versions of “Hair” over the years have generated mixed reactions. The film, directed by Milos Forman, got reshaped into a more conventional story that was a critical and commercial disappointment. Even those involved in making the movie acknowledge it has flaws.

For the new production, Rado streamlined the script, reducing the running time from nearly three hours to two. He describes the Central Park show as an expanded version of the concert rather than a precise 1968 replica. Butler, Vereen and other purists argue cutting “Hair” is like sacrilege. Rado felt, however, some tweaks were necessary to help the musical click with new crowds.

” ‘Hair’ is an organic piece that seems to have a life of its own,” says Rado. “It’s something that can be played with. I’m hoping that it has an emotional impact and makes people ponder where we came from, what we’ve been through in the intervening years and where we are now.”