For the musical’s 50th anniversary production company Aria Entertainment bought Hair back on stage in 2017. I attended the London premiere in October of that year in The Vaults, a tunnel labyrinth of a venue under Waterloo Station. There was bunting hanging from the low ceiling, so it felt like being in a den or nest. Now a new cast tours the UK and I am back in Wimbledon. Here the bunting hangs from the balconies and circles, but we are still in the classic, old drama house the New Wimbledon Theatre is.
“What is the story?”, asks my friend and I answer that there is none, only vague fragments of a narrative of some New York hippies in the late 60s who would rather get stoned than join the army for the Vietnam war. Time is only loosely applied by the growth of a baby belly and that the summer of love outfit moves from nothing to winter coats. Naturally Miloš Foreman added quite a bit more when bringing it to the big screen in 1979 and the key characters saw Nevada and Washington as well – for those loving the film the lack of story on stage still does come as a surprise every time. Not as a negative though.
You can easily fit in 47 short songs when you keep what’s happening that lose. Not all of them are happy hippie hymns but touch on serious worries of the decade: racism, loneliness, bad trips, environmental topics and the big questions always eventually asked by people being forced to make adult decisions. When you are at this stage it sometimes takes a whole tribe to pick you up again. Or a blow-up poster of Mick Jagger. That none of these themes have vanished in the last 52 years makes Hair timeless.
As all good musicals Hair is best in its ensemble scenes when the choir’s anthems become so energetic and rich goosepimples cover your whole body; Aquarius or Let the Sunshine In simply never sound the same when recorded, not even on vinyl!
From the solo songs Frank Mills stands out because singer Kelly Sweeney still allows it to be an (admittedly cheeky) love song, not just a dorky piss take. That had already annoyed me in The Vaults and when the Broadway cast came to London as a guest play in 2010.
In the dress circle of this over-a-hundred-year-old venue Hair reminds us best what a radical statement its world premiere was: breaking the rules of drama by refusing complex characteristics and plots, allowing full nakedness and having the audience joining the cast on stage.
I cannot remember a time when I did not know the lyrics to the German 1968 recording of Hair by heart. I hummed the songs on demonstrations against the Bush government in my corduroy flares in Hamburg in the first years of the new millennium and sung Hair songs when I walked down the National Mall in D.C. a decade later. Until I die, I will not forget the blackout I had when a girl came to me there and asked if I could please sing in her microphone; she was doing a collage of songs people spontaneously sung when being prompted. I couldn’t think of anything, apologised and then walked away singing to myself.
The only time I am aware Hair was played in my youth was in Bremen. The promotion claimed it had been updated for the techno generation and showed a guy’s bald skull on the cover – no, thank you. The 50th anniversary Hair feels like the real thing.
HAIR – book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot.
***** out of 5 stars
HAIR has now completed its UK tour.
The tickets were won on Instagram – thanks again to LondonTheatreReviews You can find me on Instagram here