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Hair – The Musical – Gielgud Theatre, London

Hair – Gielgud Theatre

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair …

It was a perfect spring afternoon in London when I went to see this new Diane Paulus production of the iconic swinging sixties musical “Hair” starring American 2009 Tony Award ® winning actor Will Swenson (Berger) along with Tony ®  nominated actor Gavin Creel  (Claude). I spent the afternoon in a pleasant amble around in Soho – browsing in Carnaby Street – before going to the Gielgud Theatre and revisiting my misspent youth. It brought back some kind memories for me.  I was one of the hated  ‘tribe’ of hippies.  I remember my Dad telling me not to go out in the street wearing my love beads around my neck because they made me  “look like a proper poof”  (his words).  Ah the sixties! This musical takes me back.  I also remember when I finally cut my hair (like the character Claude has to do) and the look of sadness upon my father’s face when he realized that the free and innocent creature he had once loved was gone forever. It is an irony of the age that men and women like my Dad fought in the Second World War for freedom and for love yet looked on in despair when the fruits of that hard won freedom was a generation that was actually acting ‘freely’ – protesting against the ‘rules’ of a regimented society (in a gentle non-confrontational way) and seeking approval for their mantras of love, peace and harmony and the ‘abandonment’ of the materialistic world

There have been several attempts to reincarnate this rock musical – most fail – but this is, I believe, the right time to re-watch those hippies and what they represented and to sit back and enjoy the show.  Although I was familiar with the musical,  I was still surprised at how everything seemed to be so relevant.  Subjects stand out like anti-war, pro-drugs, the results of ‘guilt free love’ and racial harmony and all have currency today.  It is worth remembering how important and innovative this show was originally, with black and white actors on stage at the same time – sharing equal billing -long before anyone could imagine a man like Barack Obama would be living in the WHITEhouse.  Eventually, skin-heads, punks and a New Wave of working class culture killed off the ‘middle class’ hippies (contrary to popular myth they were not all exterminated at the Altamont Free Concert of 1969.) And this musical was lost along-the-way,  lost in the same way as our ideals for peace and love and our cheese-cloth shirts, cow-bells and Afghan coats.  But the legacy of the Hippie culture still lives on and is found in environmental consciousness,  whole food shops, music festivals, new age travellers, sexual liberation and tolerance,  LGBT communities, ‘world’ music, and even the journey into cyberspace.

Claude, and his mate Berger, like all their friends of the tribe, struggle to balance the ideals of love, peace and harmony against a backdrop of the Vietnam war and those conservative middle-class parents (like my Dad) who think that the kids should have a wash, grab a haircut, land a job and just bloody  well conform.   The story is based around the decision that Claude faces –  should he cut off his hair  and go to Nam or should he dodge the draft and burn his papers?   The consequences of both choices may well result in the ruining of his life (he may face a prison sentence for burning his papers – but at least he would be alive and unwounded. )  The tribe doesn’t have much but they do have  each other and they have got their shared love. So they make love not war.  And they ask us to give peace a chance.

“I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood”

The music by Canadian composer, Galt MacDermot – the Bantu beats and the funky rock n roll tunes, don’t necessarily conjure up memories of Sixties hippy music. For me, then, my music of choice was Jefferson Airplane, but I also liked the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Bob Dylan.  In the musical there is no psychedelic rock or hard blues – though the cast talk about it plenty. (Though there was a nod to Jimi’s Star Spangled Banner.)  Even critics at the time thought that the show music did not accurately reflect the counter-culture of rock. But the music of Hair is firmly in the tradition of big belting
show-tunes and musical barn-storming stompers.   And the songs are good. “Aquarius” still makes my hair stand on end – and “Let the Sunshine In” [ a hit single for 5th Dimension] is still as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever. Other stand out songs are the Blur-ish ditty “Manchester, England, England” sung by Claude and the blaxploitation songs of Dionne (Sasha Allen) black boys / white boys  (“ white boys are so pretty… ”)

In “The Trip” scene Buddhist monks, Catholic Nuns, Red Indians, Viet soldiers and even astronauts get involved in the slaughter of the innocent. It was no surprise to find that director Diane Paulus has also worked on dramatic operas like ‘Turandot’ because this scene and the ‘Eyes Look Your Last’ were visually stunning as well as emotionally moving musical masterpieces. Thanks must also be given to Karole Armitage for the breathtaking choreography.

Certainly, looking back, hippies were full of sh ** – gathering bits of religion along the way, with astrology and mysticism often as an excuse for sexual abandon, drug use and general laziness. Amongst the freedoms enjoyed during the Summer of Love was the freedom of nudity – and Hair still contains elements of this, but it now seems more artistic and almost twee against our modern ‘porn flick’ sensitivity.  Previous Hair nudists have included (in no particular order) Paul Nicholas, Richard O’Brien, Elaine Paige and Tim Curry. Meat Loaf, Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina and even Donna Summer and Liz Mitchell (of Boney M) in a German production. The full-frontal nudity in the 2010 version is neatly and appropriately performed, swathed in gentle warm light – just before the interval – just seconds long. If you are thinking of going to see the show just ‘for an
eyeful’  then think again- the nudity is – shall we say – tame, by modern standards.

I recommend this production for a loving, warm and passionate evening of pure entertainment.  Like the posters say, “Feel The Love” …

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees ….   Hair!

© Neil_Mach
April 2010

Tickets for the limited run in London

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Rocky Horror Show- Woking Theatre OCT 22

RHSI have to admit I have been a regular Frankie fan for over 30 years but I must say that this production of the cult Rocky Horror Show is one of the best I have seen.

Starring David Bedella as Frank ‘N’ Furter who, in my humble opinion, is the best Frank since, well since Tim Curry – this touring production is essentially the same show as the 2007/8 show but with a few  tweaks and tassels here-and-there.

In this show we have Haley Flaherty as Janet (she recently toured in Mama Mia!) instead of Suzanne Shaw (from Hear’Say) … and if I am honest I think that Haley does a better job playing Janet – who has to transform from uptight hometown virgin to sexy vampish diva before your very eyes (similar to the character Sandy in Grease.)

Ainsley Harriott was our guest ‘criminologist’ (narrator) with his bulging eyes, chubby faced grin and none of the normal pomposity that comes with the character. As it happens, Ainsley did a very fine job and the crowd were delighted.  Magenta was played by Australian Kara Lane, and she played the character with more slinky, sassy style and a darn sight more sexily than I have ever seen before.

Bright-as-a-button Columbia was played by Ceris Hine. Our Brad on the night was  played by understudy Stuart Ellis and the small but perfectly formed Rocky was played by Dominic Tribuzio (High School Musical.) This glossy acrobatic Charles Atlas styled ‘monster’ bounced around the stage with enormous gusto. A nice touch was that Rocky first appeared to the audience as an ‘airfix’ model complete with Village People accessories.

It is hard to imagine that the Rocky Horror Show first came to the stage in 1973. Since then tens of millions of fans around the world have dressed up to act out, sing-along and heckle the actors in the show and also at special get together  film showings.

Nowadays rice and water pistols are forbidden in the theatres (but I once went to a production in Key West, Florida where the management gave each member of the audience  a large ‘party bag’ containing every prop needed for all the one-liners and the ‘in jokes’.)

But the show is not caught up in a celluloid jam- and this 2009 production is a spicy, fresh and frequently naughty jaunt into an erotic, freaky world … cool enough for the noughties audience to enjoy. It is a measure of the sophistication of the 21st century audience that the famous bed scene is now appreciated as a hearty joke for the whole family to enjoy, where internet-educated grans sitting alongside their teen grand-daughters, and chuckle along together to the sexual innuendos involving oral and anal sex and activity tantamount to rape. Back in the Seventies, when I first saw this show, the scene was considered to be shabby and scandalous enough to earn the show an ‘adults only’ stamp of disapproval.

For those of you who have not seen the show (and I was sitting next to two older ladies who had never seen the show or even the film before – so they are still out there)  the second half fairly zips along and is almost a ‘rock opera’ rather than a musical, using only songs  and very few words to paint the pictures. The band, directed by Steve Hill (Wicked, Mama Mia! etc) is above and to the rear of the stage (rather than in the pit) and this elevated position is also used for some of the solos and gives the stage the atmosphere of a sleazy club. The band was vulgar and bold enough to get the audience hot and alive and very much in the mood for dancing. The band pushed out the sounds in great waves when required.

The big numbers of the show are the famous Time Warp ‘theme tune’ (you must have heard that) and Frank ‘N’ Furter’s entrance song ‘Sweet Transvestite’ but I have always also loved Eddie’s ‘theme’ (in this production Eddie is played by Nathan Amzi) for it’s sheer joyful celebration of rock n roll life. “All he wanted- Was rock and roll porn. And a motorbike.”

On the weak side (I thought) were Riff-Raff (played by Brian Mcann) who lacked the ‘other worldly’ quality of Richard O’Brien’s character and whose voice was a little too wispy for me, and Brad – who seemed like a little lost bunny rabbit constantly dazzled by the headlights.

This show is definitely value for money and I guarantee that it will put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart for days and days after … … one of the striking things about this show (which explains its longevity and it’s loyal fan-base) is that it truly brings out the best in people. Folk are never happier than when dressed up in silly pantomime clothes and joined together to sing and dance to some doo-wopping, good old fashioned rock n rolling show-tunes.

Oh, and if you if you intend to catch this show as it tours the UK, please please make an effort to dress-up … even if it is just by wearing a red feather boa.  This advice is for your own good, because nothing, absolutely nothing feels worse than being the only ‘straight’ boy or girl (or as they say in ‘mortal’) at a Rocky Horror Show. You have been warned.

© Neil_Mach
October 2009

Rocky Horror Show
Theatre Royal Brighton

Monday 26 October 2009 to Saturday 31 October 2009

On Saturday 31st October at the Brighton Sea Front the cast and many, many fans are going to attempt a ‘world record’ for

doing the longest (as in distance) Time Warp … come down and be a part.  Don’t Dream It – Be it.

Mon 02nd Nov 2009 to Sat 7th Nov 2009
Hippodrome (Birmingham)

Mon 09th Nov 2009 to Sat 14th Nov 2009
Empire (Liverpool)

Mon 23rd Nov 2009 to Sat 28th Nov 2009
The King’s Theatre (Glasgow)

Ad Pontes Staines- music arts & going out IN STAINES

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