‘Hair’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 18, 2014

‘Hair’, the famous musical of the sixties by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot, returns to The Geoff Gibbs Theatre at WAAPA in Mount Lawley. The Third Year Music Theatre students are presenting this 90-minute, magnificent production nightly at 7.30 until 22nd March.

This show started life in 1967 but closed quite quickly. After thirteen new songs and the nudity scene were added, the show reopened on Broadway. It got a Grammy in 1969, but it was not until 2009 that it won its only Tony as ‘Best Musical Revival’.

In the late 60s, the show opened around the world, with the opening at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London being delayed until the abolition of censorship in September 1968. The cast were not happy about the nude scene and so they were given the option to choose – on the night – whether to disrobe. Many of this cast later became household names, such as Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Marsha Hunt, Floella Benjamin and Tim Curry.

 

The set (designer Hannah Metternick-Jones) is a grassy park with children’s climbing frames, a trampoline and a ‘teapot’ roundabout. The ground is littered with golden leaves. The back wall is a dark green gauze cyc. Behind which is the band.

 

        On a grassy slope in a children’s New York playground, it is autumn 1968 and flower power, along with the sexual revolution, is going strong. Slowly, counterculture hippies, part of ‘the Tribe’ known as ‘The Age of Aquarius’, start to gather. They take up lotus positions on the ground amongst the fallen leaves.

      A cheeky character, Berger (Daniel Berini), interacts with the audience, giving a member his trousers to hold. He spends the rest of the show in his underpants jesting with his African American friend, Hud (Lyndon Watts). Jeanie (Eloise Cassidy), a pregnant blonde, in a long flowing purple dress, stands in a moonbeam and sings ‘The dawning of the Age of Aquarius’. Jeanie is madly in love with Claude (Du Toit Bredenkamp), a young man who claims he comes from Manchester in England, when in fact he comes from the grubby area known as Flushing.

       Claude’s distraught mother (Ashleigh Rubennach) and proud father (Nick Eynaud) hand him his call up papers. His friend’s wonder whose numbers will be chosen next. For fun, Sheila (Sophie Stokes) puts on a yellow T-shirt, but worried about being next for Call Up, Berger tears it off and hits her. She then sings ‘Easy to be Hard’.

       Woof, the wild one of the bunch (Stephen Madsen), decides that they should all go out and celebrate with as many sexual positions and drugs as they can find. Attired in his kilt, Angus (William Groucutt) stands aloft and sings to the fornicating group in a slow 20s style.

The first Act ends with a most beautiful rendition of ‘Frank Mills’ by Crissie (Shannen Chin-Quan).

 

       The second Act commenced with the Tribe chanting ‘Hare Krishna’ before settling on the ground to take their hallucinogenic drugs. A couple of tourists, Hubert (Ben Adams) and his overbearing ‘wife’, Margaret Mead (Chloe Wilson) entered, thrilled to be part of the commune. As the Tribe enjoyed life to the extreme, we see poor Claude petrified, fighting in South East Asia.

       The stage darkens and a magnificent audio-visual design (Josh Walther) of the horrors of war over the centuries is depicted on the backcloth. The cast portrays all the raping and gruesome atrocities still taking place in America. As the action quietens down, the cast – now nude – are bathed in blood red light (lighting design Ashlee Blakers). They drift towards the front of the stage. Their nudity is minor, but the horror of the futile war and the outrages are now staring us in the face. This scene was not a few hippies stripping off, but they are going nude to prove that the average person objects more to their nudity than the unspeakable war being raged in Viet Nam.

      This magnificent show ended with the uplifting ‘Let the sunshine’ where the cast came into the audience, gave out paper water lilies and encouraged people to join in the dancing and singing.

 

Other members of the cast included Max Bimbi, Suzie Melloy, Rebecca Hetherington, Patrick Whitbread, Jack Van Staveren, Sophie Cheeseman, Miranda MacPherson and Jessica Voivenel. I must stress that these cast members were not mere chorus line actors, there was no chorus line; everyone played major integral parts and this wonderful team worked themselves into the ground. The booth singers, including Katherine Schmidli, Stephanie Wall, Hayden Baum, Nathan Stark, Stephanie Caccamo, and Jason Arrow supplemented the main cast and helped give that extra oomph to the big numbers.

The superb musical director, David King (on keyboard), led his team of Aaron Logan and Daniel Harrison on percussion, trumpets Laura Halligan and Jack Keady, guitars Jarrad van Dort and Joe Powell, and on woodwind, Max Koenig. The musical instruments were well chosen to give the sound of the day. The music itself had a vibrancy, plenty of drive when required and yet never overpowered the singers (sound Nick McKenzie, James Langlands).

The costume design by Georgia Metternick-Jones completely captured the era. With flowers in the hair, and all of the bright clothes of the day. The crew has another couple of dozen people listed, all of whom have done their hardest to bring the authentic feel to this glorious show.

When jokingly asked if the show was to be called ‘Brazilian’ instead of ‘Hair’, the director – who was hardly a glint in her parent’s eye when all of this took place – is said to have told the cast that not a razor was to be used anywhere until after the last performance. Good to see the natural look again.

 

I saw the original production in London 45 years ago; it came at a time when the most exciting musical was ‘Sound of Music’, so it truly was ground-breaking. I wondered whether in this day of nudity everywhere and loud music in numerous venues in town whether the show would look aged. As soon as the first number belted out, I knew this show was on a winner. The singers had pure voices, no nasal enunciation; every word could be clearly understood. Even on the liveliest number, with the performers leaping around every note was perfect and no gasping for air after an energetic workout. With superb, memorable songs like ‘Good Morning Sunshine’, this show just glowed. It was vibrant and exciting.

In the final scene of the London show, the Tribe gathered in a circle and stripped off, they were bathed in beautiful colours and patterns of flowers; unlike Tanya Mitford, this show’s amazing director, their director had totally missed the point – it is an anti-war spectacular.

The choreography, also arranged and directed by Tanya Mitford, was inventive, exciting and filled with humour. The whole cast were given different situations and things to do, gone was the boring line-up of hoofers.

This presentation was far superior to the original acclaimed London show. An absolute triumph. Many congratulations to all concerned for their courage and skills, and to Tanya Mitford for having the insight and comprehension to present the show accurately.