Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 23rd July, 2019
I saw this 50th anniversary production of the notorious musical when it was on at The Vaults in London and so I am delighted to be able to catch it again as the show does the rounds up and down the country. The main difference is the touring show is an altogether less immersive affair, with only the punters in the front stalls drawing the actors’ attention, whether they want to or not!
It starts with the voice of Trump, the Draft Dodger-in-Chief himself, thereby linking the events of the story with the present day. Very loosely, the show relates the story of friends Berger and Claude, offering insights into the counter-culture hippy life of the late 1960s. In 1967, the show was deemed shocking, with joints smoked on stage, nudity, bad fucking language, and all the rest of it. Society and the media have caught up with Hair since then but it is not entirely relegated to the realms of the period piece. Sad but true, the social issues and concerns of half a century ago are still with us, flaring up like a persistent strain of herpes: racism, homophobia, nuclear arms, war…
Jonathan O’Boyle’s lively production loses something in immersiveness on tour, but none of the energy and vigour. Galt Macdermot’s score with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, has given us some standards (Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine) but the show is jam-packed with strong melodies and eloquent words.
Jake Quickenden is quick to charm us with his playful, cocky Berger, and is the first to engage audience members in proceedings. Quickenden Is an assured presence with a good voice and he brings out the humour of the role. Going Down is superbly done. Paul Wilkins’s Claude, torn between dropping out and doing his duty, is an appealing figure. His rendition of I Got Life bursts with exuberance and is a definite highlight of the evening. Daisy Wood-Davies is a fine Sheila, and there’s a hilarious turn from Tom Bales as Margaret Mead. Marcus Collins has his moments to shine as Hud while Bradley Judge’s Woof is fun, getting up to all sorts with a poster of Mick Jagger.
The entire company is in great voice, executing William Whelton’s choreography with infectious energy. Many striking images arise, particularly during Claude’s second-act hallucination sequence, in which sacred cows from American history are lampooned. The chorus march toward us and are shot in the head, one by one. A blue sheet covers the fallen… O’Boyle and Whelton ensure it’s not just dancing around here, augmenting the storytelling of Ragni and Rado’s sometimes scant book. The music is performed live by the onstage band, directed by Gareth Bretherton, creating a rich, and sometimes loud, palette of sound.
Fun, pertinent and sometimes beautiful, Hair still has something to say about the world we live in and the way we live in it. I adored it all over again.