I first saw Hair in April when the Original Broadway cast came over to open the show here. It was like nothing I have ever seen before and last night I saw it for the third and probably final time, due to the show’s premature closure on 4th September.
Hair follows the story of a tribe of hippies in New York’s Lower East Side. It is set around the time of the Vietnam War and features many well known songs such as “I Got Life”, “Let The Sun Shine” and “Aquarius”, some of which became famous because they were used as peace anthems after the original Broadway production of Hair. The production mainly focuses on Claude (played by Gavin Creel), who is drafted to fight in Vietnam and, unable to bring himself to burn his draft card as other male members of the tribe do, he goes to Vietnam. A detailed plot summary is available at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_(musical)
The show involves a great deal of audience interaction, culminating in the audience being invited onstage for the dance party finale. Far from making you feel uncomfortable, though, the audience interaction pulls you right into the world of the tribe. It makes you feel what they feel, dream what they dream and desperately want what they want. It is one of the only shows I have ever seen that makes you feel every emotion from laughter, through to elation, through to frustration and then to deep sadness, all in two acts and little over two hours.
Gavin Creel plays a fantastic Claude. His moods switch almost instantly as he attempts to deal with the challenges presented by the draft, the thought of leaving his friends behind and possibly being killed in Vietnam. He and Berger, played by Steel Burkhardt, have excellent chemistry on stage and it really does make the audience believe that they are the best of friends. Burghart’s Berger is a strange mix of raw emotion and boyishness, coupled with an amount of humour. When he introduces himself to the audience at the beginning of the show, he has no trouble asking an audience member to hold his pants for him and introducing another as his mother. It takes a fine actor to be able to have that level of comfort with the audience, and one thing I love about Hair is that members of the cast won’t think twice about having a chat, dancing with you or just singing to you. Both Burkhart and Creel posess stunning vocals that add extra power to the already powerful songs.
The first act pulls you into the world of the tribe. It introduces you to many characters. Kacie Sheik plays Jeanie, who is heavily pregnant having been “knocked up by a speed freak” but completely devoted to Claude. Sheik’s comedic timing mixed with her powerhouse voice make her a pleasure to watch, much the same as Allison Case as Crissy is a joy to behold. Crissy is probably the youngest and most innocent member of the Tribe and Case plays her beautifully. I almost couldn’t take my eyes off her throughout the show as she stays wonderfully in character the whole way through, reacting to everything her cast mates do and to the audience. Particularly in the final scenes of the show, you see so much emotion from the cast but nothing so raw as Crissy’s reaction to the loss of Claude. Darius Nichols plays a very saucy and deep voiced Hud, who in the middle of the show laid his head on the lap of my friend and sang to her. My personal favourite member of the tribe is Sheila, who is played by Caissie Levy. Levy’s Sheila has a certain regal quality about her, as well as vocals that almost blow the roof off the theatre. During her solo number, “Easy To Be Hard”, it is easy to understand and relate to what Sheila is going through in being let down by friends and wondering how people can be so heartless.
Every single member of this cast is exceptionally talented and full of the kind of energy you expect to find in a show like Hair, but I feel special mentions have to go to Sasha Allen (Deonne), whose powerhouse vocals are like nothing else, Luther Creek (Woof), who plays a maverick character so well, Phyre Hawkins (Abraham Lincoln), who is the epitome of musical theatre gone right and Hannah Shankman (Tribe), who manages to stand out in a company of exceptionally talented individuals with her fantastic vocals.
Aside from the excellent cast, the show is very cleverly put together. The stage, although very simple, provides ample backdrop for the show as well as some smart lighting choices. I was suprised to find Shakespeare references within the show such as “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason…”, which is featured during Act 2 and stems from Hamlet. The show also features a very famous passage from Romeo and Juliet – “Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace!” – which I didn’t actually notice the first couple of times I saw the show. Although the subject matter is sometimes hard to digest, particularly in the UK where the show is not a part of our history, some very clever writing means that even those who have no idea historically can move along with the show. I went into the theatre prepared with only sketchy remnants of A-Level history to guide me, but I found it easy to digest. My personal favourite explanation during the show was a tribe member’s opinion on the draft – “The draft is white people sending black people to make war on the yellow people to defend the land they stole from the red people!”
I don’t know whether it was just my imagination, but I felt that last night’s show was especially energetic due to the overturning of Prop 8 (bill banning gay marriage) in California yesterday. This cast is heavily involved in campaigning to Equality and they marched last year at the Washington equality march. Gavin Creel, along with others formed Broadway Impact (www.Broadwayimpact.com) that brings together the Broadway community in support of equality, so he in particular was thrilled about the ruling. I felt this really shone through in last night’s show.
I really could write all night about this show, but I won’t. If anyone involved with Hair reads this, thankyou for bringing peace, love and flower power back to London, even for a short time.
Every theatre fan should see this show before it leaves London in less than a month. Day seats are available from the box office every morning at 10.30am for £20, so there are no excuses – go now!