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Review: Hair the Musical at Liverpool Empire ****

May 20, 2019

When Hair first burst upon the UK stage in 1968 it was pretty racy and outrageous stuff – hippies, protest, drugs, sex….full-frontal nudity!

These days when anything goes online and on primetime television let alone in the live arena of theatre, tuning in, turning on and dropping out with Claude, Berger, Hud and co might seem rather tame stuff.

But while it might not have shock value any more what Hair does still main the power to do is entertain, and this colour-saturated UK touring production certainly pulls out all the stops in its bid to do that.

If you turn up expecting a complex and rounded storyline, then Hair is likely to disappoint you.

This ‘love-rock’ musical is more a sensory overload of sights, sounds, smells – the aroma of joss sticks and swirling dry ice appear a prominent part of director Jonathan O’Boyle’s revival; a piece of performance where the narrative sum is less than its colourful psychedelic parts.

Paul Wilkins as Claude with members of the 'tribe'. Top: Jake Quickenden as Berger with fellow cast members. Photos by Johan Persson

 

The main plot, such as it is, centres on Claude (Paul Wilkins), a member of New York’s hippie ‘tribe’ who is torn between doing his patriotic duty in Vietnam and resisting the draft like his pacifist contemporaries.

Wilkins is a strong presence as the conflicted, indecisive Claude, while there are a series of similarly engaging performances among the tribe, not least from Dancing on Ice winner Jake Quickenden who makes for a flamboyantly free-spirited and amiably beguiling Berger, Daisy Wood-Davis as a sweet-voiced, sincere student activist Sheila, and Liverpool’s Marcus Collins who exudes energy as the militant Hud.

Meanwhile there are particularly powerful vocal performances from Aiesha Pease, who as Dionne leads the opening Aquarius, and Kelly Sweeney as Crissy.

Marcus Collins as Hud. Photo Johan Persson

 

A sound hiccup on opening night caused a brief hiatus in the action, extending the already fairly hefty running time, but the cast and on-stage band quickly regained their momentum to pack each successive number with plenty of punch right until the final radiant exhortation to ‘Let The Sunshine In’.

The are some striking visual moments – the line of joints lit in unison at the beginning, the church-like candlelight that punctuates the second half opener Electric Blues, the sniper sequence that accompanies anti-war song Three-Five-Zero-Zero – which are made particularly effective by Ben M Roger’s lighting design.

And the nudity? It’s surprisingly tasteful, extremely brief and wreathed in modest half-light.

In essence, as a story, Hair might be a little sparse on top, but as a stage spectacle it’s certainly got volume, bounce and (star)shine.

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