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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Hair
Gielgud Theatre   Spring-Summer 2010

Hair is colourful, tuneful, bright, perky and infectiously enjoyable. If it also has a slight air of ersatz museum-piece Disneyfied Early Americana about it, well that’s part of its charm as well.

You had to be there, but there actually was a brief moment in history when it was possible to entertain the hope that a generation of hairy kids who believed in peace and love and were against all the things it was right to be against might actually be on to something, and to enjoy this musical as a celebration of the brave new world they heralded.

We know now that most of them grew up to work on Wall Street in the 1980s, but it was a nice fantasy while it lasted, and it is more than mere nostalgia that makes a revisit to that fantasy welcome.

(Oh, and incidentally, you don’t have to remember the sixties to enjoy Hair. My companion was a sixteen-year-old, and she had a ball.)

Famously, when archetypal Sixties director Tom O’Horgan moved the musical from Off-Broadway to Broadway and London, he threw out most of Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s book, creating one of the first song-cycle musicals.

The plot is virtually nonexistent - a bunch of hippies hang out, and one of them gets drafted - and there are more than forty songs in all (lyrics by Ragni and Rado, music by Galt MacDermot), many of them barely a minute long and most of them not particularly good.

But the ones that are good - Aquarius, Hair, Good Morning Starshine, Let The Sun Shine In, etc. - are very good, and have taken on some of the patina of joyful innocence shared by the early Beatles songs. 

James Rado has tinkered with the book, putting back some of the original spoken dialogue and, I think, rearranging some things.

My memory of the 1968 version is fuzzy (‘If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there.’ - Paul Kantner), but I think Claude’s bad trip has been extended and elaborated on, and I remember Good Morning Starshine coming earlier in the show (It works quite nicely where it is now).

And I must credit director Diane Paulus for an unexpected and very effective re-imagining of Let The Sun Shine In.

Paulus moves the action out into the house whenever possible (an element my young friend particularly enjoyed) so that those on the aisles and in the front rows may find themselves being played to on a one-to-one basis.

Choreographer Karole Armitage skilfully creates the illusion of there being no choreography at all, but just people dancing as the spirit moves them, though the fact that they never crash into each other, and frequently form unexpected - and all the more lovely for that - patterns gives away the artistry behind the seeming randomness.

As Berger, leader of the gang and compere of the evening, Will Swenson is less magnetic and charming than you could wish (and he thinks), though Gavin Creel is attractive and sympathetic as the draft-threatened Claude.

The rest of the cast generally take turns stepping forward for one song before disappearing back into the chorus, with Sasha Allen (Aquarius) and Caissie Levy (Easy To Be Hard) registering most strongly.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - Hair - Gielgud 2010