The Age of Aquarius
Suede vests with long fringe, head bands, psychedelic colours, bell-bottoms with bandanas tied at the knees, huge Afros, and long hair….Hair. The costumes and wigs at the Grand Theatre’s production of Hair will transport anyone old enough to recall right back to the sixties.
I can remember when long hair was considered the root of all evil: some of my male classmates in high school were kicked out because their hair touched their shoulders, and they were told they couldn’t return to class until they had gone to the barber. It now seems (as it did to many of us back then) such a silly thing to anger school principals. But the older generation’s hatred of long hair spawned the musical Hair, which pointed out that there were many things of greater concern: racism, gender inequality, pollution, violence and war.
Even today, Hair’s revolutionary concepts require a caveat. At Friday night’s opening, Director Susan Ferley gave the audience a warning – the f-word would be used liberally: she said it would be a “noun, adjective, adverb, expletive, and on one occasion, used as a verb”. She also warned that there would be nudity. Nobody got up and walked out. I think the Grand’s over-55 crowd is well aware of Hair’s reputation – we giggled about it back in 1968.
Hair is the story of one “tribe” of hippies in the sixties. They tuned-in, turned-on, and then dropped out of the rigid society of their parents. It’s a celebration of sexual freedom and mind-expanding drugs, while at the same time condemning war, prejudice, and hatred. But the show cleverly contradicts itself as well: the “free love” ends up hurting those who aren’t loved in return, Jeanie’s pregnancy makes us fear for the baby’s future, and Claude decides to go fight in the unwarranted war. The celebration of the drug culture just makes us laugh at the stupidity of the stoners.
It is wonderful to see four Londoners in the young cast: Rebecca Peters is delightful as Crissy and her solo “Frank Mills” is beautiful, almost a show stopper. Western University opera grad Jennifer Kee is Sheila, and sings the hits “Easy to be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine”. Sara Hunter is very convincing as the pregnant Jeanie, and pulls our heartstrings with her lost love, while Jazz Testolini’s smile lights up the ensemble.
Andrew McAllister steals the scene as Margaret Mead, providing the show’s comedy. He and Jess Abramovitch also draw the laughs as the parents who expect Claude to join the army when his draft card arrives.
Jamie McKnight as Claude plays the stoned hippie very well, and shows off his wonderful vocal talent. In fact, he’s so convincing as a hippie, that it’s hard to believe he doesn’t burn his draft card, and we never understand his motivation for going to fight in Viet Nam.
Don’t go to see Hair expecting a nostalgia trip with the music. The orchestra lacked the sixties rock ‘n’ roll sound, and in fact the Broadway version of the familiar songs are different than what we were used to hearing on the radio. If you love Three Dog Night’s rendition of “Easy to Hard” then the Hair version will be disappointing as the tune is slightly different and doesn’t pack the same power. Similarly, the song Hair is not the same as the Cowsills’ hit that we all love so well, nor does Good Morning Starshine sound like Oliver’s version. Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In is not the familiar Fifth Dimensions style. But despite the original Hair musical score not being the same as the hits we heard on the radio so long ago, you can still bask in memories of 1968.
Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Directed by Susan Ferley
Choreographed by Tim French
Musical direction by Jeannie Wyse
Grand Theatre, London
April 10 to May 13, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Hair continues at the Grand Theatre, London until May 13. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.