Alan Wooding reviews Hair the Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre
It's said that Hair, the hippie-style musical imported from New York's Broadway back in 1968, changed censorship, the West End's attitude and London's theatregoers for all time.
Promoted as a notorious American 'free love' musical set in 1967 in the USA's capital city at the time of the draft for the Vietnam War, all I remember from the time was the show's on-stage nudity which made headlines – and it certainly helped put bums on seats!
The 50th anniversary tour version of Hair The Musical opened in Milton Keynes Theatre last night (Monday) for a week-long run and, having sat through two hours 10 minutes of ear-splitting rock numbers, had I seen the original back in the day, then I would probably be totally deaf by now!
Despite the familiar and catchy Aquarius, I Got Life, Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sunshine In, the show is packed with dozens of other rock-style numbers - but if asked if really I understood, or could even hear the lyrics, it would have to be a resounding no.
It's certainly a different type of show to the usual musical. ITV's Dancing on Ice winner Jake Quickenden is the show's hairy key character George Berger and Hollyoaks actress Daisy Wood Davis is his girlfriend Sheila Franklin. They along with the whole cast, belt out a series of rock numbers to showcase their talents – even though the four-piece band often does its utmost to drown them out.
The 14 members of the cast (or 'tribe') wander onto the stage through the auditorium whereupon Berger drops his trousers and 'moons' at the audience moments after everyone appears to light up their joints – and that probably left the first few rows wondering what other joys they would be encountering.
That in itself almost set the tone for the next 130 minutes, for Berger is nothing more than a sex-obsessed layabout high on pot with 'a thing' about Sheila while his bisexual mate Woof (Bradley Judge) has more than a crush on The Rolling Stones' frontman Mick Jagger.
The tribe live a Bohemian existence in New York's East Village but when an army call-up comes for Claude (Paul Wilkins), his pacifist nature overrules his patriotic feelings and he makes several attempts to burn his draft papers, encouraged by his friends.
It's a show featuring plenty of enthusiastic non-stop singing and bare-foot dancing from what is clearly a talented cast although for me, the stand-out character was the cross-dressing show-stealer Margaret Mead (played by Tom Bales). His My Conviction number was comedy itself, especially as 'she' goes into the audience and plants herself on one gentleman's lap while calling his partner 'a bitch'.
With rallies and protest about the war, following President Lyndon B Johnson’s intervention in Vietnam, there's bisexuality, interracial relationships and the aforementioned nudity against the backdrop of a truly psychedelic stage set.
In the end, Claude – having had an out-of-body pill-popping experience – puts patriotism over his hippie convictions and suddenly appears in an Army uniform with a short back and sides haircut and puts an end to his former life.
I liked Hud (played by Spin on the night as X Factor's Marcus Collins was unavailable) along with Jeanie (Alison Arnopp) and Sheila while there are certainly some outstanding voices, even though few of the songs were particularly memorable.
With the actors sometimes making incursions from the stage and into the auditorium, it was during the finale that the audience were encouraged by the whole cast to go up and join them for an exuberant reprise of Let the Sunshine In.
While Hair is not just a show about hippies with long locks, in reality it was the actions of those protesters that grew to such and extent following years of bloodshed, that the Americans finally pulled out of Vietnam having lost more than 60,000 young men themselves.
Hair is principally a collection of around 40-plus Galt MacDermot-penned rock numbers (many being reprised) marking out a truly dreadful moment in world history. Vietnam may have recovered over the past 50 years although for me, this particular show, courtesy of co-writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado, would probably have been far better left in the past.
* Hair, The Musical plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (20 July) with tickets from £13 from the Box Office, 0844 871 7652 or www.atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes