Most of the men who grew their hair long in the sixties now have little or no hair while younger audience members will probably never have heard the songs – such as Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine, Let the Sunshine In, and the title track Hair – which makes this musical rock.
Yet the themes of this radical musical of yesteryear are as fresh today as they ever were. The energy and vibrancy of the music also seems to successfully span the generations, although, to be honest, most of the audience appeared to be baby boomers anyway.
Paul Warwick Griffen, the director, has done a great job in putting together a young, bubbly cast. The ensemble work is magnificent. The two featured stars are Jan Ellis as Berger, and Rowan Cloete as the central character, Claude.
Cloete’s musical theatre experience is growing in leaps and bounds. I first saw him in Love, Valour and Compassion (a gay themed play where he appeared nude), then in one of the annual pantomimes, I think it was Cinderella, and most recently as a very camp King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar. He is a commanding presence on stage as well as being very easy on the eye. He has a brief moment in the nick in this show as well.
Several other elements added to the impact of this show. The lighting (Jannie Swanepoel) was exceptionally good, almost psychedelic, but not nauseating, the set (Keith Anderson) was simple but effective, making use of a technique I have not seen before, namely swinging booms which placed singers out over the first two or three rows of the audience. This seriously upstaged the rest of the cast for the duration, so the concept probably has limited use in this kind of ensemble work, but it is a magnificent idea for any number of other productions.
The choreography is worthy of a special mention. Timothy le Roux captures the mood of the swinging sixties with some authentically retro choreography.
I loved the costumes by Ilke Louw. I wasn’t expecting as great a variety as were on display. Not only were the sixties flower children represented as one might reasonably expect, but so too were the Hare Krishnas, astronauts, nuns, military officers, and native American Indians in one all encompassing hallucinogenic scene.
I hated the faux American accents however. They made the singing incomprehensible at times and as the lyrics often convey the action much was lost. The singing in general was another weakness. It often sounded quite shrill, especially in the upper ranges, although there were some very attractive voices and the chorus was generally attractive.
I had been looking forward to the drag portrayal of Claude’s mother by Bruce Little, but the whole thing was very hammy and that scene was stolen by Niall Griffin in his role as Hubert Mead, Claude’s father.
I was disappointed that the musical ended with a voice over pointing out parallels of the war in Iraq and talk of a new compulsory draft. True, indeed, but not the main issue for South African audiences. In my mind the overwhelming parallels are between the lack of choice South Africans had in the sixties and seventies which included whether to see this show or not (it was banned outright) and the gagging of freedom of expression in present day Zimbabwe.
That Hair was banned in apartheid South Africa is no mystery. The themes are clearly subversive and threatening to repressive and oppressive societies. Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll are just the tip of the iceberg. This show has it all – blasphemy, profanity, “free love”, nudity, anti-establishmentarianism, peace seeking which particularly problematic in a society where conscription was compulsory, homosexuality, drugs, and the very dangerous concept that black and white people might have common ground and even appear on the same stage simultaneously. It also briefly looks at woman abuse, dropping out of school and abortion.
These are issues that still affect us in modern day Southern Africa, and for us there is no need to move further away than our own country and immediate neighbour to the north.
This production of Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s rock musical at the Montecasino Theatre runs until July 21.