When I was a kid, I’d drag my parents’ box of LPs out of a musty cupboard and flick through psychotropic covers from another age. A sleeve which often caught my eye featured an androgynous, bouffanted head back-lit in lime and red. It was my Dad’s original copy of Hair, bought on release in 1968.
One day, I came to play it. I was enchanted by a peculiar anthology of rock songs, lilting harmonies and bloody rude lyrics. How could my mild-mannered parents own such an obscene thing? Of course, it hadn’t dawned on me that my folks could have once been teenagers with their own rebellious streak.
Later, I’d discover that Hair was more than just an album of incredible songs. The record came from a controversial, mythical stage show which single-handedly changed the landscape of musical theatre — giving rise to the rock opera.
This year Hair is back, embarking on a journey of peace, love, and rock psychedelia as part of a national tour. As a new cast steps into roles which originated with their grandparents’ generation, can a fifty-year-old show about a youth movement really make the same impact again?
For the most part, Hair is a sung-through musical, allowing the numbers to tell the story of a boy drafted to war whilst a sexual revolution takes place around him. The action occurs on a set that feels like the inside of a giant pinata with a band seamlessly integrated into a tribal landscape. Bold and kaleidoscopic, it perfectly sets the scene for a range of trippy dance routines and hallucinatory vignettes. It doesn’t always make sense, but that’s not the point. Hair is a musical about feeling and experience.
Jake Quickenden quickly establishes the tone with a camp and flirty portrayal of Berger — a reckless hippy who rips off his slacks within the show’s opening seconds. He’s a bonkers character who steers us through a tie-dye odyssey of drugs, sex, love and war. Interestingly, he’s something of a morally ambiguous figure, giving the impression that writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado are not entirely behind the pure hedonism of the hippy movement.
A strong company hands over a genuine West End standard. Marcus Collins and Aiesha Pease demonstrate a particularly impressive range against some very competitive talent. Paired with a pounding arrangement, fans seeking a robust reimagining of the original soundtrack will certainly come away fully sated.
A broad field is explored over 40 numbers, ranging from American rock to Irish folk. Big hitters such as Aquarius, Hair, Let the Sunshine In, Good Morning Starshine and I Got Life benefit from forceful arrangements, however lesser known gems such as Black Boys/White Boys, Manchester and Electric Blues shine just as brightly in this version. The bawdy lyrics still cut to the bone too, with Sodomy drawing out some nervous giggles and unsure applause at its climax. Brilliant.
Whilst the fashions and political references steep the show in the late Sixties, Hair’s general themes of freedom, social liberty and non-conformity resonate as loudly today as they did half a century ago. Such anxieties are still the concerns of the young, and whilst audiences may age and become part of the miserable establishment, the rebellious passions at the core of the show remain timeless and will speak directly to a new generation.
After 50 years, Hair has lost none of its racy style, credibility or rebellious energy. It’s a joyously vigorous, trippy and effusive festival of rock which sets out to agitate and invigorate. A voluminous revival without a single cutback – this Hair is bigger than ever.
Cast: Alison Arnopp, Tom Bales, Marcus Collins, Louise Francis, Natalie Green, David Heywood, Bradley Judge, Aiesha Pease, Jack Quickenden, Laura Sillett, Spin, Kelly Sweeney, Paul Wilkins, Daisy Wood Davis. Director: Jonathan O’Boyle Writers: Gerome Ragni & James Rado Music: Galt MacDermot Theatre: Manchester Palace Theatre Running time: 150 minutes Dates: 8th – 13th April 2019.
Tickets: atgtickets.com/manchester or call Box Office on 0844 871 3018.