REVIEW: HAIR THE MUSICAL (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★★★

Years before Dear Even Hansen, American Idiot, Rent and Six spoke to a generation, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical was unleashed upon the world.

This musical, with book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, is a creature of 1960s counter culture and sexual revolution. When Hair premiered Off-Broadway in 1967, the musical’s depiction of the use of illegal drugs, bad language, treatment of gender and sexuality and nude scene caused much controversy. Parents were banning their kids from seeing the show and kids were trying to get their parents to see the show to understand them better. Touring productions around the world were met with protests and several countries either banned the show entirely or it’s cast recordings. In New Zealand, the American touring production cast were arrested, tried and acquitted before their opening night occurred. Radicalising musical theatre, Hair broke new ground being the first ‘rock musical’ and defining this term, inviting audience onstage to partake and using a racially integrated cast.

Hair premiered on the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1968 with a delayed opening night to allow for the abolition of theatre censorship in England under the Theatres Act of 1968. The show’s transfer to London would not have happened had it not been for the new Theatres Act which ended the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of censorship dating back to 1737. This original London cast included Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry (who first met during this production). After the celebrated Hope Mill Theatre production transferred to The Vaults in London in 2018, this 50th Anniversary Tour production has been highly anticipated and opens at The New Wimbledon Theatre, before embarking on a UK Tour. It is quite fitting that this production is opening in Wimbledon as the Wimbledon committee, without having seen the production, refused permission for the original touring production to be performed in it’s Civic Theatre on reputation alone!

Hair tells the story of a ‘Tribe’ of young long-haired hippies of the ‘Age Of Aquarius’ living a bohemian life in New York City. Among the ‘Tribe’, we meet Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila, besotted Jeanie and ambiguous Woof as they struggle to balance their lives of love and sexual revolution with the rebellion against war and a conservative society. As Jeanie puts it, “This is the way it is. I’m hung up on Claude. Sheila’s hung up on Berger. Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger — and Woof is hung up on Berger.”

This 50th Anniversary production stars Dancing on Ice’s 2018 champion Jake Quickenden as Berger, Hollyoaks’ Daisy Wood-Davis as Sheila, X Factor 2011 finalist Marcus Collins as Hud with Alison Arnopp playing Jeanie, Tom Bales as Margaret Mead, Bradley Judge is Woof, Aiesha Pease as Dionne, Kelly Sweeney is Crissy and Paul Wilkins as Claude. As Berger, Jake Quickenden is exuberant and has an almost other-worldly characteristic that is magnetic. Daisy Wood-Davis’s Sheila is sweet and her vocal one of the strongest in the show. Marcus Collins gives a strong performance as Hud and Bradley Judge’s Woof is performed with reverence and refreshing glee. Out of all the characters in Hair, Claude has the most character development and Paul Wilkins performs him with great aplomb. A strong protagonist, Wilkins uses his charm, energy and accomplished vocal to allow Claude a full range of emotion resulting in the audience siding with him early on and feeling the heart break of war as seen through Claude’s young eyes. Hair is an ensemble production and it’s evident from the start of the show this Tribe have worked extremely hard to create a community. No actor outshines another but instead work incredibly well together to create a cohesive group to tell the story of Hair physically, emotionally and vocally.

Maeve Black’s brilliant design is simple, colourful and fits the show well. A large chain-link fence adorned with hundreds of different coloured ribbons wraps around the back of the stage, while the band are lifted on platforms in front of it. Various tree stumps for the cast to sit and stand on during the show are planted on the main playing space with grass and flowers on the lip of the stage. Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is imaginative and his use of fabric as protest signs, netting and a large sheet for Walking In Space was very striking.

Hair is a masterpiece of musical theatre, inspiring countless musicals and creatives in its wake and this 50th Anniversary Tour production is just as affecting. Hair remains the exuberant, celebratory first rock musical in musical theatre history with many of its themes still relevant today. So Let The Sun Shine In by joining the Tribe in the Age of Aquarius and see the 50th Anniversary Tour of Hair today!

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Johan Persson

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