REVIEW: HAIR (West End, London)

Be warned dear reader, and be prepared to stand back, for I have just got back from watching the press night for the latest musical to throw open its doors in the West End, and all I have to say is WOW! WOW! WOW!

I had been looking forward to seeing this production for nearly a year now, from when it was first announced, though had been avidly following the production from the 2008 Public Theatre performances in Central Park, New York. Needless to say, tonight’s show was everything that I’d impossibly built up and hoped for, and yet somehow, so so much more!

It should probably come as no surprise that this musical has become one of the fastest ever musical shows to recoup its initial investment, and of course it very deservedly won the 2009 Tony for Best Musical Revival.

There is just so much that I want to talk about in regards to this production that I am at a loss for where to start!

How about we go with the staging itself, and say that this is truly unique and remarkable…! In HAIR there simply is NO fourth wall – the actors frequently and directly acknowledge and converse with the audience sitting there, this, of course, is when they’re not climbing over seats, touching the public’s hair and interacting with everyone! 🙂

If you want an idea of what I mean, then the Tony Awards performance from 2009 is exactly what you get at the Gielgud!

The whole theatre becomes a hippy playground – simply put, no matter where you’re sat, you’re fodder for the cast to come and play with you. It’s really ‘revolutionary’ the way that they have staged this I think, and the accessibility of the actors off the stage really helps convey a sense of honesty (which is intentional); and with the audience being able to trust and empathise with the characters on such a personable level (as you have touched them and spoken to them). Of course, given the themes explored on stage, I don’t think that the production would work half as well if there had been a fourth wall barrier between the viewing audience and the uninhibited hippies on stage – jumbling everyone all up was definitely a great move, and one that the entire audience seemed to take to very quickly (bar a few overly snooty critics sat near to us).

My new pal Tim (theatreJunki) and I were sat in Stalls Row D, seats 19 and 20 and both thought that these were splendid seats – we found ourselves right in the thick of all the action!

(I may have been slightly chuft to bits when the gorgeous Gavin Creel – who plays Claude – climbed through the stalls, gyrated and thrusted over the hair of a lady in front of me, and then grabbed my hand for a considerable amount of time…. but I am admitting to nothing! 😉)

Perhaps more subtle (ha, yeah right!) was my love for Hud (Darius Nichols) – sexy sexy sexy!!! He definitely knows how to turn on the charm heh.

I’d like to flit out of my review for just a second to remark upon just how unique and arguably ‘revolutionary’ that I think this production actually is; in part due to the following:

  • The fact that this is the New Broadway Cast (i.e. the original revival cast) here in the West End – this is huge and has never happened on anything like this scale before!
  • The absence of the fourth wall and abundance of audience interaction
  • Nudity on stage in a popular /large musical
  • You are invited up on the stage at the end of the performance to sing and dance with the cast /fellow audience members!

The cast therefore have a lot to live up to, and by goodness, do they ever!

One imagines that the cast must be even more hyperactive than I am (a feat in itself!) and they are clearly such a closely bonded, intimate and seemingly tight-knit group, that the production benefits from this immensely – they really do feel like extended family! I will be interested to see what happens when the Broadway lot go back home, and a British cast, who have not had years to bond, try to accomplish this.

The Broadway cast are committed to play at the Gielgud until 2nd October 2010, after which time it is likely that a British cast will be installed, as Sir Cameron has previously hinted at.

As much as I love the West End, I have to say that I am so glad that this opening was with the Broadway cast  – simple logic would reckon that there are millions more people in America than in the UK and so I bet competition for these roles would have been immense and clearly the cream of the cream has risen to the top – I could not fault one casting choice – it was absolutely perfect, and I was blown away several times by their performances/vocals.

By having the cast members in the audience as well, it makes it a really nice experience to be able to hear and pick out individual characters from the ensemble singing  nearby too, as well as the main group itself.

As I say, the cast is SO accessible, I touched several of them, and many of them spoke to us as we were leaving the stage – it was great to be able to thank them directly for all their efforts.

The musical score for HAIR is, as always, fantastic and the live band really do get into the music that they are playing – their love of the score is evident if you watch them whilst they’re performing (and kudos to them for having a banjo in their musical arsenal – I’ve not seen that before!!).

If you have a Spotify account and fancy listening to the full New Broadway Cast album, you can do so via this link.

For those people who may have seen the 1979 movie adaptation of HAIR, forget all about it – I had, for years, thought that I really liked it, but having now seen the stage musical in full, I can see just how horrifically that the people behind the film version have butchered the story and songs – giving the whole thing a completely different meaning.

By the end of the production, I was crying my eyes out – I really was. A combination of being so close that I could look into the eyes of the very emotive cast and the beautiful staging of the final number – once the snow began to fall, that was it, I was gone! Not since Spring Awakening over a year ago have I been moved enough to shed a tear or two in a West End theatre.

In the hundreds of times that I have listened to ‘Let The Sun Shine’, never before has it spoken to me and touched me as it did tonight – I really got the meaning of the song and it’s forever changed my view of it.

This musical is still just as relevant today as it was back in the 60s – in effect it seems to have become timeless, which I think is a marvellous thing, hopefully this show can continue to touch and help shape future generations much in the same way as the ground-breaking original productions did.

It is very hard for me to pick ‘highlights’ out of this fantastic production – the whole thing is superb in my opinion, though if you twisted my arm, and if I didn’t go for obvious songs, I would have to say that these included the Act 1 finale, “Where Do I Go” (an amazing vocal from Gavin Creel coupled with a very tastefully done nude scene), the song ‘Air’ (and Kacie Sheik), the Abraham Lincoln hallucination in Act 2 (Saycon Sengbloh is fab!) and any moment where vocal powerhouse Sasha Allan (Dionne) is singing!

My favourite hippy (apart from the gorgeous Hud and Claude, of course :P) is Sheila (played wonderfully by Caissie Levy).

As I mentioned earlier, for the curtain call, they invite everyone to come join them on the huge stage for a (newly extended) reprise of ‘Let The Sun Shine’ – if you’re able to get on to the stage, I really really recommend that you do it!

Tim and I jumped at the opportunity and it was amazing to interact with the cast and the other 150 / 200 or so people who were on the stage with us, all singing and dancing together. Even the back-stage crew came out to join in. A rather beautiful moment if I am honest – there was such joy and a sense of unity amongst everyone, it was truly great and something that I’ll never forget!

The below picture was taken by Tim whilst we were on the stage (just before Gavin Creel ran off into the circle and started swinging off the ceiling) – do please visit Tim’s blog to see his great review of this show too! 🙂

Image credit : theatreJunki.com

There is SO much more that I could write about this show, but alas I fear that I’d waffle on even more than I have done already heh! If you have any questions, do feel free to ask them – similarly if you’ve been to see it already, do please share your thoughts with the blog Tribe!

Yes, tickets for this show are rather expensive, but they are definitely, definitely worth it, I promise you.

For a high that you will never come down from, HAIR simply has to be the must-see musical for anybody visiting the West End this summer.

With the potential for open air performances in Hyde Park etc (as happened in New York) and UK outdoor festival appearances already confirmed, I really do think this is going to once again be the Summer of Love!

HAIR has been previewing at the Gielgud since 1 April 2010, and has it’s opening night on 13th April. The show features the original revival cast from Broadway and is currently booking until 8th January 2011 . Due to scenes of nudity and general show themes, this show is not recommended for those under 12 years of age.

The show plays for around 2 hours 25 minutes, with a 15 minute interval.

Performances times are Monday to Saturday evenings at 19:30, with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays at 14:30.

RELATED LINKS (my other blog posts):

Programmes are a very reasonable £3.50 and if you’re lucky as I was, you’ll get a few souvenirs from the cast in the shape of freshly cut daisies (I love mine!) and a flyer to their (false) love-in. I do love it so when you get to take ‘props’ / mementos home.

One final bit of trivia – I was sat just a few seats away from James Rado this evening – it was he who co-authored this fantastic musical back in 1967! How remarkable! 🙂

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About Gari

Thirty-One year old northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

4 Responses

  1. james

    Looking forward to this next week but the Old Vic Production with Sinita and John Barrowman also had audience interaction – together with onstage seating

    Like

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