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THE IMPOSTERS

A Feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

Presented by special arrangement with Tams – Witmark Music Library Inc.


Hair

in support of

Help for Heroes

 

Bergers then and now: Oliver Tobias and George Maguire

Photo by John Couzens

 


Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado


Music by Galt MacDermott


Musical Direction and Orchestrations by David Keech


Produced, Directed and Choreographed by Gary Lloyd


Produced for the Broadway stage by Michael Butler

Originally produced in 1967 by Joseph Papp for the New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre

Scenic and Lighting Design – Serge Patist

Sound Design – Peter Velthuijzen and Chris Whybrow

Costume Design – Glenn Hewitt and Eve Weigt

 

Piccadilly Theatre

 

July 1, 2012

 

 

At its best Hair personifies the spirit of the late ‘60’s flower power movement, a movement which in reality, ended with the shooting of four student anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University in 1970. Though in America, at least, the hippie movement left a lingering resonance that seemingly, never dies.

Though Hair is an anti-war musical, there are shards of shimmering, hopeful truth within its darkly ironic pronouncements. It is ultimately, about the possibility of collectively finding power in such truths despite the odds against that. But those who were ‘there’ in the days inspiring Hair’s noble, sometimes ingloriously misguided idealists can’t help but feel tinges of sorrow at their coming of age, as offshoot Occupy and seeds of other equal rights movements hit fallow ground here. But the young men who’ve fallen in Vietnam and the other unjust wars enabled today no longer have the choice of choosing sides. That is the impetus of the connection between the charity Help for Heroes which aides war-maimed soldiers and vehemently anti-war show Hair, the latter ultimately being all about love and brotherhood.

Acclaimed musical Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical, began its ascent into legend in 1967 Off-Broadway, having a brief run in a mid-town Manhattan disco before its 1,750 Broadway performances from 1968, the year its West End production opened, once UK censorship laws were sufficiently relaxed to allow its brief nude scene. Gerome Ragni and James Rado wrote the original book and lyrics for the show drawing on their own personalities for its main males, Berger and Claude. A woman at this one off revival, who’d gone to the 1968 opening night of Hair’s London production at Shaftsbury Theatre, and again, she said, with glowing eyes, ‘the next night, and the next,’ confirmed, it had been ‘pure magic!’ Having been mesmerized by a touring production in the States in 1971, when my hair was past my waist, and been totally awed by it, I empathized. Hair is more than a musical it is a happening, with timeless messages of love, peace and inadvertently perhaps, the fleeting freedom of youth, circa 1967.

In my young teen years, with helicopters, bombings and 19 year old soldiers crawling through jungles on the nightly news, I envied hippies. From what I’d seen of them, endlessly protesting downtown, they were colourful, peace-loving, anti-war people, daring in ways a Catholic school kid like me could only hope for. Though I was wearing love beads from Woolworth’s, and their dreams were already starting to wane, I knew the words to all the subversive songs from Hair by heart and playing my secretly sought soundtrack and singing along to them when mother was out was one of my forms of youthful rebellion.

 

 

Hair poster circa 1968

 

 

And what songs they are! Who could walk out of a theatre after hearing an anthem like ‘Let the Sunshine In’ or ‘Aquarius’ without singing it? Or, ‘Good Morning Starshine’, ‘I Got Life’, ‘Black Boys’ and any number of other rousing and somehow, touchingly ironic songs such as ‘Frank Mills,’ and the deeply moving ensemble reprise of ‘Sunshine?’ So to begin with, we have a show brimming with great songs!

A tribal group of young hippies congregate in NYC’s East Village, where they hang out, compare views and fall in and out of love in Hair, seen as the first ever Rock musical, despite the varying styles of its songs. Though if Rock means rebellion and speaking out, this is definitely, where it’s at. Some of the teenagers are runaways, some rich or neighbourhood kids. But no matter what their origins, they have three things in common - they have long hair, get high and want an end to the ‘dirty little’ Vietnam War.

This special, charity performance of Hair, which recently enjoyed a run in Munich, Germany,  was met with enthusiastic cheers as smiling performers threw themselves into their ‘tribe’ with Berger (George Maguire) introducing himself and other characters. A rousing performance of iconic ‘Aquarius’ followed, featuring 2002 Pop Idol winner Zoe Birkett, then one song flowed on from the other, taking us on the varied trips of their performers. If the performance itself seemed somewhat uneven at times, it could have been down to two variables: a one off performance on an unfamiliar stage presents its own challenges, and also, a couple of singers in the cast (who shall remain nameless here) have delivery that is simply, far too contemporary to be in keeping with the 1967 timeframe of this show. Be that as it may, any fluctuations were quickly forgotten as the show progressed and the audience seemed more and more willingly carried along on its energy and heart. On the way, some performers shone – Charlotte Watts was understatedly outstanding as Jeannie, the girl in love with gentle natured but unable to fight the system, Claude, very well sung and played by Stephen Rolley. Michael Watson and Aki Omoshaybi were also fine as Woof and Hud respectively. Individual show highlights included Amy Diamond’s Shelia’s poignant rendition of ‘Easy to be Hard’, Berger, George McGuire’s vibrant ‘I Got Life,’ and the singing trio of Suzie McAdam, Yasmin Yazdi and Abigail Brodie on ‘Black Boys’ and Lakesha Cammock and Tori Allen Martin, with Zoe Birkett on ‘White Boys’, which nearly brought the house down! Craig Storrod and Rohan Pinnock–Hamilton offered via spirited singing and dancing support. A nice comic turn from Nick Butler as honeymooning Hubert and the actor playing his ‘wife’ (not stated) added laughs. Last but not least, the performance of the title song, by the entire ensemble thrilled and delighted!

A live onstage band with a couple of roaring guitars completed the cast, rocking or rolling along, though moments when singing was allowed to predominate and musicianship merely complimented worked out best for all concerned, including those listening and trying to sing along in the audience. Thankfully, tribal costumes in the show seemed more like pieced together outfits than specially made period pieces.

Special onstage guests at curtain calls, included Oliver Tobias, the original Berger in the 1968 London production of Hair and Paul Nicholas, who played his gentler friend, Claude in that memorable cast.

Naturally, given the presence of former soldiers in the house, the production assumed a deeper tone. Words from an athletic, former service man who’ll be representing Great Britain in the Para-Olympics on two artificial legs, drew cheers and encouraged a wave of donations to Help for Heroes, the vital group founded in 2007 especially to offer support to members of the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force injured in the line of duty, in need of assistance redirecting their lives in the aftermath of war disabilities. To know this man is rising to new challenges today, thanks to his determination and their help is truly, inspiring.

 

To make a donation visit: http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/

Photo by John Couzens

 

 

 
Here are some clips of the 1968 original London production of Hair:
Prior to its opening, courtesy of Granada Television:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWHaFqqwnrA&feature=related
and, the show itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCesrwMh2YQ

 

Piccadilly Theatre

4 Denman St, London W1D 7DY

 

 

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