Review – Hair – Gielgud Theatre

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Hair: musical event of the year? That was what I expected when I sat down in row F of the “FeelGood” tonight, chuffed about my £20 seats (thank you Facebook and Twitter!). The show had been a major event in New York, with people waiting in line at 6 AM to get tickets for the Central Park version, and this was even the imported American cast! I wanted to get me some of that!

I ask now: some of what? Through some comic mis-wiring in my brain, I’d mixed up Hair with Jesus Christ Superstar, apparently thinking there was just one hippie musical in the entire Broadway canon, and spent probably 15 minutes trying to figure out which guy was supposed to be Jesus and which Judas. Sex machine Berger (Will Swenson), with his thick, dark hair, seemed possible; but when he stripped down to his leather thong (his battery pack for his mike covered more of him than his costume did), I was pretty sure this was not the designated Son of God. Claude (Gavin Creel), with his focus on his Aquarian destiny and air of doom, had real potential until slightly mad Woof (Luther Creek) showed up. But then it registered just what I was watching, and some tiny voice in me asked, “So if we’re not going to Calvary, where is Hair taking us?” I’d gone and bought tickets and yet I couldn’t remember a thing about the plot!

Two and a half hours later, I still don’t know where Hair was going. It’s full of good pop songs (many of them dodgy), energetic performances, and piles of color and spectacle. I was amazed by the cheekiness of “Black Boys” (and “White Boys”) and dumbstruck by the bell-like voice of Kaitlin Kiyan in the Hare Krishna song. And there was so much to look at – my goodness, the cast is now naked! (rather less shocking considering how many times they mimed having sex) – and then there were racial issues, drug use, and homosexuality depicted on stage (most jaw-dropping of which was the supposed mind-blowing powers of smoking pot), but … well, for me, rather not too much to care about. There was a bit of drama attempting to happen between people who loved folks who didn’t love them, and then the “story,” of Claude and how he deals with being drafted, but I didn’t feel any sense of commitment to the characters or, in fact, any dramatic arc – well, maybe, but it was drawn with a crayon, and I’m used to more deliberate choices in my theater.

The whole thing, in fact, just felt like a paper thin excuse to shove a huge pile of songs together with a very thin through line, and, provided you’re willing to accept that and give up all hope of a tremendous evening of “theater,” it was a fun night out. But I’m, well, a burnout of sorts. I know what I like, and a musical with a weak book cannot just sell me on spectacle. I’m sure lots of people will see this show and love it, but … gosh, I wish I could have seen it outdoors in Central Park, where it would have had not just the magic of fresh air and actual stars overhead, but the history of the location and the kids who were actually living there forty years ago to make it more of an “event” rather than just a show that makes money off of selling the hippie experience to a white, middle class audience.

Even though I joined in the dancing on stage, I couldn’t get behind this show, and my feeling was that this production was good as it can possibly get – unless you were actually able to see it under a night-time sky. Maybe someday in the future I’ll have that opportunity, but I’m sorry to say this production is not going to be “the theatrical event of the year” for me.

(This review is for the press night performance that took place on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010. Hair is booking through January 2011. Despite the grousing, I think I might go ahead and buy the soundtrack.)

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5 Responses to “Review – Hair – Gielgud Theatre”

  1. Shalene Shimer Says:

    Agreed, I saw it the same day as you (yesterday), and while it was nice, it wasn’t overwhelming.

  2. almost witty Says:

    I saw it yesterday too (thanks to your offer), and it was a bunch of songs and likeable actors playing unlikeable characters in search of a plot. And BurgerBoy was too close to Will Ferrell for my liking.

    It’d be interesting to note what has “changed” between the original production and this version.

    Plus: SPOILERS

    any musical that has a sad ending that then feels the need to tack on a “good ending”, is a bad musical.

  3. Chris M Says:

    Can’t believe how mealy mouthed you are being about this – you are obviously all far too young to have any idea about where the songs and even the plot are coming from.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      You’ve really caught me out – 42 is just too young to get this. I take it you are sixty?

      I like a different style of musical, that’s all there is to it. It’s not about age.

  4. Review – Fela! – National Theatre – and comments on rude staff « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] how much what he was doing mattered. I have to go back to Hair to make the comparison properly. Hair, to me, was a pretty show with pretty songs about pretty, selfish kids who just hated that people […]

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