As soon as the musical Hair opened, Ragni began to work on Dude. MacDermot was busy with Two Gentlemen of Verona but finally began to compose the music. In March 1972, their studio cast album, Salome Bey Sings Songs from Dude, was recorded and released on Kilmarnock Records. The music was more influenced by country music than their previous musical, Hair.
The rehearsal period was plagued with problems: Kevin Geer, the actor who had been cast in the leading role, Dude, was unable to sing the role acceptably and had to be replaced; the script (such as it was) was far from finished; Ragni's requests of the producers were bizarre (for example, 100 butterflies to be released at the beginning of each performance); and the cast threatened to walk out.
In The Broadway Theatre, the musicians were divided, with brass and woodwinds against the wall of one side of the playing area and strings at the other. To accommodate the multimedia presentation, the theatre was gutted and reconverted, at a cost of $800,000, into a circus-like arena in the center (a theatre in the round) filled with fake dirt (real dirt had caused dust; wetting it had caused mud), ramps, runways, catwalks, columns, trapezes, trapdoors, bleachers, and various mechanical and electronic gear. Performers moved freely between the round playing area, representing "Earth", and the audience, seated in flanking "valleys and foothills," with "mountains and mountain tops" beyond and "tree tops and trees" (mezzanine) above. "Heaven and hell" were also represented. The overall effect was of a circus being performed in a primeval forest.
The previews were disastrous, as the audience could not hear with the orchestra scattered around the edges of the theatre. Despite attempts at amplification, the acoustics were still bad in the hollowed out theatre. The director and choreographer resigned, to be replaced by Tom O'Horgan, who had directed Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Previews were shut down, and the show went back into rehearsal. Some cast changes were made, and flamboyant visual effects were added. The director and cast confronted Ragni and forced him to rewrite scenes, including most of the second act. Actors wrote some of their own dialogue. The script finally settled down, mostly, by the second to last preview.
After sixteen previews, the Broadway production, directed by Tom O'Horgan, opened on October 9, 1972 at The Broadway Theatre. Universally crucified by the critics (and audiences), who found it incomprehensible, it ran for only 16 performances. The cast included Nell Carter, Rae Allen, Salome Bey, and Ralph Carter, who won the Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Performer.
Ralph Carter, an 11-year old African-American, replaced Kevin Geer, a white 23 year old, who was originally slated to play "Dude", due to Carter's age, Nat Morris was cast as "Big Dude" in order to still use the more mature songs. Despite leaving the show, Geer's image, with his back facing the camera was used for the show's poster.
Only five weeks after Dude closed, MacDermot experienced another major failure with the flop musical Via Galactica.