A FABULOUS AND TIMELY FLASHBACK
HAIR – the rock musical
Book and lyrics Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music: Galt MacDermot
DIRECTOR: Sarah Delahunty
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Justin Pearce
at Zeal (above Bodega), Wellington
From 18 Apr 2012 to 21 Apr 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 19 Apr 2012
Back in the daze of the cultural revolution I worked the onstage follow-spot for the Sydney production of Hair, perched high above the band on a scaffolding tower. The 'tribe' was huge, the production values major (dynamic sound mix, pulsating lighting design, costumes and wigs to die for …) and the Metro Theatre rocked.
What, then, could I expect of a young cast of 14 and band of five presenting it in what is effectively a large room? The answer is a beautifully clear and simple rendition that gets to the heart of it.
An L-shaped stage backed with chicken wire and grey paper features a monkey bar. That's about it for set design. The 'tribe' mooches on in dark grey overalls stamped with numbers: is this to be The Seminal Rock Opera Hair as Performed by the Inmates of a Detention Facility Under the Eye of a Rifle-toting Guard?Apparently.
Fear and trepidation envelops these lost souls as they emerge from their overalls, like butterflies from chrysalises, to reveal their psychedelic hippy costumes (splendidly created by Nicky McCreanor). But it takes them a while to 'find their wings', as it were.
I take it this device is director Sarah Delahunty's way of putting the show in a 21st century context; reminding us that the quest for universal peace, love and freedom remains unfulfilled in a world where war continues to prevail. The uniform /conformity overalls and idealistic dream of hedonistic freedom may also be seen as a metaphor for the age and stage of any generation of young people facing and resisting their futures as adults.
'The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius' – initially sung a cappella – brings them into role, or rather out of their constraints and into their more joyous and alive selves. Not that the course of hippyness always runs sooth.
The central relationship of draft-confronting Claude, supposedly from ' Manchester England' but increasingly lost in his messianic dreams of miracle-working grandeur, and his unrequitedly devoted girlfriend Sheila is strongly delineated by Te Aihe Butler and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana.
Claude's inability to conduct a personal relationship well while pursuing a quest against social injustice – beautifully articulated in Shelia's 'Easy to be Hard' solo – and the paranoid trip he gets from a toxically laced joint are among the elements that makes Hair so much more that a psychedelic romp.
Claude's parents are nicely sent up by Maxwell Apse and Sylvie McCreanor. Apse's Berger also sets the tone with 'Looking for Donna' ("a 16 year-old virgin") while McCreanor nails the poignant 'Frank Mills' song.
Clement Cizadlo and Jordan Lafoa'i offer a mellifluous rendition of 'Sodomy' – the hymn to human sexuality (although including pederasty in the list of otherwise natural sexual practices remains a wrong note). Cazadlo also gives a splendid account of Margaret Mead's 'Conviction' (that longer hair and other flamboyant affectations are natural male plumage).
Gussie Larkin is inspirational in leading 'Good Morning Starshine'. And the whole tribe – the above-named plus Andy Gartrell, Anna Parsons, Ashley McGough, Casey Apse, James Holth and Rian Kannemeyer – works wonderfully together, under musical director Justin Pearce. Along with the band – Alex Stainton, Petar Andrejic , Felix Faisandier, Thomas Manch and Michael Costeloe – they truly embody the lyrical concept of 'harmony and understanding'.
The lack of electronic amplification only enhances the authentic tone of the thoughts, feelings and passions being expressed. Delahunty and her team have made this revival of Hair work powerfully as a timely reminder of the alternative value system that, while flawed in its hedonistic departures from the reality of human survival, does argue for something much more constructive that what still prevails in our world.
In short: a fabulous and timely flashback.
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