For the first 30 minutes I wasn't convinced it was a good idea to bring back Hair the Musical. Much of the first half seemed like a concert with little dramatic drive or coherence. It also seemed predominantly male oriented for a show focussed on freedom and equality. However, as the emphasis narrowed to Claude’s story in the second half, I was won over. It is brilliant!
My doubts come from the writing itself – but the form of musicals has developed so much over the past 50 years that it is easy to forget that much of what we enjoy in later works was sparked off by the novelty of Hair.
The producers stated that they aimed to keep it simple and it pays off. The venue itself is part of the experience. Little set is presented, but the back wire is beautifully used. A simple floor with grass and tarmac is balanced by the arched roof streaming with ribbons. The area behind stage where the musicians reside offers a depth and chance to regroup for the actors. I am impressed that they managed to get approval for so much fire on stage!
The show started with reference to President Trump. It could have been a cheap trick, but linking him back to previous Presidents who have each failed to deliver on promises did highlight the continuing relevance of many of the show’s themes. So much time has passed yet few of them have been resolved. I was surprised that LGBT issues were more roundly addressed than black or feminist ones. Sad that many of the features for the female performers were in support of their men rather than their own march to freedom and equality, but maybe that is a sign of those times. That said, there are so many memorable songs which have a bite in their lyric.
I was disappointed with the lighting. Although it produced a lot of atmosphere, when lights are clipped in tightly, the actors need to find them and the cues need to be precise. Too often the actor had to wait for his light to come up. Everything changed in Claude's hallucination scenes. Suddenly, everything clicked.
This show offers beautiful ensemble work. Each actor embraces the love and offers nuance within what could be a limited hippy palate. William Whelton has choreographed pleasing dance using the simple sways and circles which we associate with the time. I felt the nude scene was treated a little coyly – retreating to the back of the stage to present a tableau was not in the spirit of the “in your face” defiance it represented – you can still see that at festivals today. I wanted them to be more brazen with it.
It is a show dominated by two, maybe three male parts. Luckily, each of the actors delivered. Andy Coxon is a desperately right-on Berger. Liam Ross-Mills enlarges Woof to be more impressive than his lines allow. Robert Metson delicately unravels Claude’s dilemma. Shekinah Mcfarlane and Laura Johnson glory in probably the best known songs : Aquarius and Good Morning Sunshine. The band delivered solid but not overpowering music with some gorgeous detail. All the performers successfully developed character above the long hair and flowing costume.
The second half build to a glorious climax with Claude’s decision leading to him adorning the red and white bandages on the wire frame to create the Flag. So effective to leave his fate unresolved to allow him to stand as everyman in this world where politicians casually commit their personnel to questionable wars.