Tuesday, 20 May 2003

Hair (The Musical), Her Majesty's, May 20, 2003

Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado   
Music by Galt  MacDermot
Her Majesty's Theatre, May 20  until July, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 20, 2003

David Atkins'  production of Hair, the 60s musical, is peppy and jam-packed with effervescent youthfulness. It is, however, a very squeaky clean version of the hippies of that drug taking, promiscuous, militant decade.

 The first half is the stronger although there is little narrative. The second stalls with a series of LSD hallucinations unlike any old hippy ever experienced.

The show is an excuse for plenty of lively choreography, (Jason Coleman) a vivid design (Eamon D'Arcy) and retro costumes. (Laurel Frank). Essentially, it is an excuse for a bunch of memorable songs played by a fine nine-piece rock band. Hair boasts Aquarius,  Donna , Frank Mills,  Good Morning Starshine,  Let the Sun Shine In  and the title tune, Hair.

Some songs were controversial in the 60s but  are pretty tame in the naughty noughts. Sodomy,  is a sung list of sexual practices that probably shocked middle America forty years ago but an eighty-year-old couple beside me did not flinch. Hashish  similarly, is a list of recreational drugs that has changed little apart from the omission of Ecstasy  and Crack.

Atkins includes updated references. Including an anti-war placards saying No HoWARd. Mitchell Butel's bogus audience member is an Aussie mum  not a New Yorker.  The play is known as an anti-war piece. This is not detectable until a moving moment at the very end when Claude  (Kane Alexander) enlists, dons a uniform and comes home in a body bag.

The Tribe  of Hippies is like Ferals  of our decade. Every generation thinks it started the revolution. The Tribe lives as outsiders, abusing drugs, big business and government, defying their parents, avoiding work and hating war.

Several characters are central to the loose narrative. Sassy Matt Hetherington,  plays Berger,  the apparent leader while the confused Claude is played charmingly by Alexander. Tamsin Carroll,  plays Sheila,  the political radical of the Tribe, great strength both in voice and character while Butel  is hilarious as the high camp Woof.

A highlight is Patrick Williams  as Hud  the African-American.  His voice is rich and his presence compelling - even in a sequined gown during Black Boys. Dead End, which he sings with the black cast members, is a terrific, funky blues.

At the close, we are left with the poignant message that naïve, young men died in Vietnam. Given our current place in the world order this show is timely.

By Kate Herbert

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