Hair the Musical – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Book and Lyrics: Gerome Ragni and James Rado

Music: Galt McDermot

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

Reviewer: James Garrington

One of the sad things about Hair the Musicalis that it is famous – or infamous – as much for its nudity as for its themes and music.

When it first appeared in 1967 for a brief run in New York this was a significant piece of theatre with drug use, racial integration, disrespecting the flag and sexual references. The inspiration for the piece had come about when two actors, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, encountered an anti-war protest in Central Park, where a group of young people were demonstrating peacefully with flowers and marijuana. They felt it had the makings of a theatrical event, and started working on it, with the show transferring to Broadway. Initially banned in London due to the strict censorship laws here, it finally opened in 1968.

Times move on, and where these themes might have been provocative and shocking 50 years ago, they no longer have the same effect. To some extent that dilutes the impact of the show for a modern audience, but despite the passage of time remarkably little has changed. People are still protesting about war and social injustice, people are still struggling against being stereotyped and being able to be themselves in public. The war may no longer be in Vietnam, and draft cards aren’t being burnt, but the parallels are evident.

With a psychedelic set laden with multi-coloured tassels designed by Maeve Black, Hair the Musical is very much an ensemble piece. The cast of 14 all get their moment in the spotlight, with most of them getting their number to sing as well as dialogue – and as you’d expect they’re all very strong, with some notable performances. Jake Quickenden is perfectly cast with a performance that appears almost spontaneous as the unpredictable Berger, Daisy Wood-Davis shows some delicious vocals with a lovely Good Morning Starshineand Marcus Collins is also in good form as Hud. Perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening comes from Paul Wilkins as Claude, a young man torn between succumbing to authority and rebelling when he gets called-up to fight.

This is a show with no real traditional plot or storyline – it’s a theatrical experience, chock-full of music with very little dialogue. The scenes that exist are little more than vignettes, small glimpses into the lives and thoughts of the characters. It’s also a show of two halves, with an almost jumble of ideas coalescing into something more coherent after the interval. It’s a shame that so many of the lyrics get lost in the delivery, as they serve to replace a lot of the dialogue in creating the whole.

It may not all make perfect sense but with some great choreography by William Whelton, it’s certainly entertaining – and audience members who remember that time will be reminded of the memorable songs, some of which became hits in their own right. Just don’t be surprised if you find Good Morning Starshinerunning through your head for the rest of the night.

Runs Until 4 May 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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