It would appear that Hair, the latest installment from Broadway to hit the West End (complete with full American cast – wow!) has done the impossible and left me rather indifferent. I can honestly say that I was disappointed and excited by this musical. I neither hated it, nor loved it. Therefore, Hair for me is a sit on the fence affair to comb my short hair whilst debating the idea of having sex, drugs and singing hippy freedom songs.
Set in the 1960’s, where free love dominates the events of this time, Hair transports the audience back to the swinging sixties in New York where a group of youths attempt to find themselves in the freedom of expression. The storyline can be summed up simply. There is Claude who is under pressure from his very conservative parents to get a proper job, and sadly he can’t escape the fact he is destined for the army. Everyone else in the production pretty much lives their own life as they please, and want the best for Claude – in a ‘don’t fight in the war’ manner.
The thing with Hair is that it is a representation of a decade that I have no connection with other than the fact my parents were born in the sixties. With this in mind, I struggle to see how the essence of this era can be transposed to a 21st century audience. Can it? In some respects yes, but in such a manner that it portrays a narrow view from the participants and not of the greater story. Naturally as a stage production we are getting a condensed version of the era, a small tasting and experience.
My disappointment comes from how the musical is structured and written. Whilst some of the songs are of course iconic – the musical itself does little for me. It is rather the experience of the night that excites me about this production. Stripped back to a bare stage and with little to no theatrical devices used, the focus of the whole evening is on experiencing. What a pleasure it is to not get lost in stage trickery and instead being lurred into an atmosphere by the performers alone.
There are some clearly outstanding performers too, who shine in their solos. Notably Sasha Allen as Dione has such a powerful voice that even when walking up the side of the auditorium a microphone wasn’t needed – she belted those notes out. As the only character to have a real plot and storyline we can’t help but to admire Gavin Creel as Claude who conveys a torn confusion between freedom and authority. The sexual and playful Will Swenson playing Berger has one mighty thrusting hip action going on, and of course Caissie Levy as Shelia who comes across as the most easiest of characters to relate to, a sense of grounding and understanding seeps from her songs.
As an experience it is quite astonishing at the level of audience hands on (in more ways than one) we actually get in Hair. If we are not being given flowers and high-fiving performers, we are having our hair stroked or encouraged to climb onto the stage and dance in the finale. Luckily with the design for Hair, the action extends into the circles above the stalls giving everyone an experience to remember.
There is nothing better than having a performer belting out their harmony while standing next to you. Hair has the ability to break down all those preconceived notions of the fourth wall, or a sit back and relax experience of theatre. They engage, excite and give a night to experience!
Sadly, I can’t get out of my head that this musical for me, did not fulfill all my needs. As a musical of songs, text and movement I am disappointed by its thinness – but as an experience for an audience member I am elated. I guess my advice is to see the show for yourself, because let’s face it – when are we likely to see a Broadway production, will full Broadway cast in the West End any time soon?
Hair the Musical is booking at the Gielgud Theatre until Jan 2011, for more information see the rather jazzy website for the UK show.