Hair: The Musical
11 October 2018
Young people petrified of their president, the looming fear of nuclear war and arguments over the American flag – haven’t we moved on since the 1960s….
Never has there been a better time to revive the musical Hair and this energetic, sparky production gives it a thrilling outing. Whilst Hair will never win awards for its slender and incoherent plot, it can boast a score that still sounds as exciting and compelling as it must have done when it first opened fifty years ago.
Where Do I Go? and The Flesh Failures have always been some of my favourite musical numbers and the staging here is tender and powerful; ending both halves with immense feeling.
William Whelton’s creative choreography breathes new life into many much-loved songs, as does an exceptional band, led by Gareth Bretherton.
I loved the first half, which has a real emotional core, although I felt myself drifting away during the lengthy hallucination sequences in the second half, which are overly surreal and energy sapping. Perhaps some judicious cutting may have been prudent, just as they’ve done in recent Broadway productions.
However, it builds up once more with an incredible, almost euphoric climax, bringing the audience on the stage to brilliant effect. For those five minutes, this little bunker in Waterloo is the happiest place in London.
The cast is incredible across the board, with exceptional harmonies and co-ordination; they truly are a tribe in every sense. It feels unfair to pick out individuals but Robert Metson is a highly likeable Claude, whilst Shekinah McFarlane’s superlative and soulful voice is beautiful as Dionne.
It is a strong ensemble across the board; I’d love to see more of Natalie Green and Laura Johnson, both of whom were excellent throughout.
Two remarks on the venue and staging; the Vaults is a wonderful space for this production and they have put everything behind it, turning the whole theatre and bar into a 60s hippy commune. There is some sharp and colourful lighting in the venue and the wider space, giving the whole area a true psychedelic vibe.
However, somebody may have taken Let the Sunshine In too seriously as the heat was seriously oppressive. Whilst this is obviously not the fault of the stellar cast, it was too much to bear for some people near me who didn’t return for the second half; hopefully a solution can be found for the rest of the run.
The production is also missing a touch of the wonderful intimacy of the Hope Mill production in Manchester (England, England…), with some of the audience being close to the stage and others being in tiered seating further back. Curiously, the ‘red’ close seats are cheaper than some of the others, which seems a great bargain to me as they seemed to be having way more fun!
However, these are minor gripes; this is an exceptional production from a producer who is making real waves in the industry. Katy Lipson’s Aria Productions is becoming a byword for quality musical productions, as is the Hope Mill Theatre, which has been churning out some top-drawer shows this year, including Yank and Pippin. It is fantastic to see a new venue (and one outside the capital) blazing a trail.
You might not be thinking about Hair’s the next day but you’ll certainly be humming the tunes. As the gloomy winter approaches, Hair’s fabulous music and energy is a guaranteed to give you a ray of sunshine.