Liverpool Empire, Liverpool – until 25 May 2019
Reviewed by Kate Hughes
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the musical Hair, and last night’s vibrant performance of the controversial hit makes it easy to see why this musical has stood the test of time.
Hair follows a ‘tribe’ of hippies living in New York City through the Vietnam War, with the stage set as their ‘commune’. The stage design – thousands of colourful streamers adorning the walls – felt a little disingenuous and looked more like the exterior of a piñata and less how one imagines a real commune would have looked like. However, the clever levels to the set allowed the band to be naturally incorporated into the performance as fellow ‘tribe’ members.
We are introduced to key members of the tribe right away. Jake Quickenden is charismatic as the tribe leader Berger, who wastes no time in stripping down to very little clothing and lithely gyrating through the audience, setting the tone for the rest of the performance. Marcus Collins is fantastic in the role of Hud and deserves special mention for how he handled the technical difficulties (presumably one of those first night teething problems) that unfortunately meant the audience were unable to hear his first song. This was followed by a five minute interval while the technical situation was rectified, before Collins and the cast returned to the rapturous support of the audience to redeliver an amazing performance. Another special mention has to go to Aiesha Pease for her astounding, out of this world vocal performance and to Alison Arnopp for her endearing portrayal of pregnant hippie, Jeanie.
The musical is mostly about the songs and less about story and plot, the main focus of the latter being whether or not tribe member Claude will go to fight in the Vietnam War. The strength of the performance lies in the note perfect cast and chorus. Each musical number was sung with absolute panache, exuberance and raucous enthusiasm that didn’t wane despite the sheer amount of musical numbers (50 including reprises). Regular interaction with the audience features throughout, making us feel like honorary members of the ‘tribe’, culminating in the audience being invited on stage during the encore of the goosebump-inducing, final rendition of Let the Sunshine In.
Overall, Jonathan O’Boyle succeeds in making Hair relevant for the modern day audience with up to date cultural references, as well as ensuring that it lives up to its reputation of being brazen, controversial and full of life. Definitely a musical that everybody should experience at least once!