REVIEW: Hair the Musical (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★★
After a triumphant start in Wimbledon, Hair the Musical arrives in Sunderland as part of its 50th Anniversary tour.
Over the years, Hair has caused controversy, intrigue and shock and this revival ticks all those boxes in a spectacular way.
Set in late 1960’s America, Hair is a culmination of rebellion against the Vietnam War, breaking racial and sexual prejudice and freedom. The show introduces us to The Tribe, a group of peace-loving, young people, who are celebrating the dawn of the age of Aquarius and begin to enlighten the audience about their philosophies and beliefs who in turn speak to the crowds and share their stories of how they came to be in this drug fuelled, free loving clan. Each tribe member appears to be far removed from the real world from an outsider’s perspective but when you get to the heart of the matter, they are probably more grounded than most of the top flying politicians of the decade whose decisions were leading a nation into crisis.
Their leader is the charismatic Berger (Jake Quickenden), who has dropped out of school and lives on the streets, getting high and making love. There is Woof (Bradley Judge), a gentle soul who extols sexual freedom, Hud (Spin standing in for Marcus Collins), the African-American who declares himself the President of the United States of Love, heavily pregnant Jeannie (Alison Arnopp) protesting against pollution and Sheila (Daisy Wood-Davis), the activist with a soft spot for Berger. Gradually the musical takes on more of a narrative style becoming the story of how one of the tribe, Claude (Paul Wilkins) finds it increasingly difficult to refuse the US draft.
There are some exquisite voices in this performance and I have to say, for me, Aiesha Pease as Dionne was outstanding, giving a stunning soul voice to music by Galt Macdermot and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
There are moments so perfect in this production by Aria Entertainment, Senbla and Hope Mill Theatre, that they take your breath away. The nudity, which in the original production caused much controversy and shock, is beautifully simplistic – The Tribe stripping for freedom.
A show like this, strong on cast, needs to be strong on creatives too and Hair is no exception. The glorious technicolor set and costumes designed by Maeve Black, the stunning choreography by William Whelton all under the direction of Jonathan O’Boyle. And the stunning on stage band of Connor Gallagher, Alex Crawford, Tom Hutch and Andrew Richards led by Gareth Bretherton.
This is a wonderful psychedelic trip back to the 60’s and if you are lucky enough to be in the stalls, it’s a very interactive show too – with Berger, Margaret Mead (the fabulous Tom Bales) and The Tribe in and out of the audience at various stages and the glorious finale inviting the audience on stage to dance to Let the Sun Shine In
Reviewed by Susan Lindsay
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