Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Directed by Stephen Pike, Musical Direction by Major Geoff Grey

The Q Theatre, 19 Sept 2012

Hair in a nutshell: it’s the swinging sixties, and a new generation of young, progressive New Yorkers (hippies) are rebelling against a conservative America and the unpopular war in Vietnam. Through a haze of mind-altering drugs, free love and complicated relationships the urban ‘tribe’ struggle for peace and freedom, protesting against the frightening reality of conscription that will soon claim one of their own as ‘Vietnam Bait’.

It’s been 44 years since Hair made it’s debut in New York in 1967, with the production crossing the ocean to land in Sydney just two years later. A fellow seated behind me had actually seen the production featuring Marcia Hines and John Waters back in the day, reminiscing about that era-defining moment when the performers proudly and inconspicuously displayed their nudity, as was the style at the time, circling wildly beneath a great silk canopy.

In contrast, this production of Hair is a little more sanitised in this respect, with this generation opting to put a more modest stamp on the show. However, this production is by no means any less authentic, and what it lacks in boldness it makes up for with sheer exuberance and enthusiasm.

Admittedly, some of the younger members of the cast had never heard of Hair before being involved in the production, according to the director, though it was plain to see that each and every one of the incredibly gifted performers on stage had wholeheartedly embraced the story, its characters, each other and the spirit of the time.

The range and depth of talent among both the principal characters and ‘the tribe’ was truly remarkable, with each individual making their unique mark at some point of the show - all pitching in with abundant energy to bring this most iconic musicals to life in all its vibrant glory.

With so much going on at any given time during Hair, this complexity could be a recipe for disaster in the wrong hands, however, the scripted chaos of the production flowed beautifully into a technicolour kaleidoscope of movement (thanks to costume designer Christine Pawlicki) through the experts hands of choreographer, Jordan Kelly.

The kool kat band are also to be commended, faithfully reproducing the original music with just the right vibe, while being unobtrusive. Although it was a treat to hear all the classics of the musical by cast and band alike, the highlight of the night would have to be the total abandon of the BE-IN “Hare Krishna” scene, stunningly punctuated by the lilting descant of Laura Dawson (Jasmine).

Pete Ricardo was more than worthy of the lead role as the tribe’s leader, Claude, displaying confident showmanship and treating the audience with a strong and magnificent vocal performance. Tim Stiles was charismatic as the lovable and slightly arrogant alpha-male Berger, while James Court was endearing as the goofy, Mick Jagger-obsessed Woof.

You could practically see Will Huang’s energy bouncing off the wall as Hud, such was the zeal he put into his role as this mischievous larrikin, and Claudia Tretreault totally brought the goods for her part as the sassy Dionne.

Although not technically the strongest of the troupe vocally, Rebecca Harman held her own and brought a luminous, earthy quality to her leading role as Sheila, the object of Claude’s affection, while Kitty McGarry had the audience absolutely charmed with her angelic voice as the naive Crissy, who’s in puppy-love with a bikie.

But it was Maigan Fowler who supplied the laughs of the night, showing a natural adeptness for comedy as the pregnant, slightly delusional Jeanie who’s hopelessly infatuated with Claude. Also unforgettably funny was Greg Sollis as Margaret Mead, the eccentric tourist curious to understand the little ‘flower pots’ ways, who had the crowd in stitches with some good old-fashioned, cross-dressing fun.

While it was disappointing to see no flowers being thrown into the audience, as apparently happened in the sixties, the cast stayed true to tradition by dragging onlookers from their seats at the end of the show to join them for a reprise of Let the Sun Shine. It was a rare, memorable moment of abandon for both old and young and indeed a beautiful sight to behold.

With equally serious and perhaps even more pressing issues facing young people in our present time, seeing this production makes me wonder how a modern day musical of this calibre would creatively reflect these concerns of a new generation. I wait with anticipation!

Deborah Hawke

When: 19 Sept to 6 Oct
Where: The Q Theatre, Canberra