Despite Hair the Musical currently touring to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it's a show that has evaded me throughout my years of going to the theatre! Fortunately, I got the opportunity to experience the magic of the once-controversial show last night (April 9, 2019) at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, and what a wondrous and immersive performance it really was!
Be warned: if you're not a fan of getting involved in what's going on up on stage, then don't sit in the first few rows of the stalls! You're likely to get at least a brush on the shoulder if you're sitting on the aisle, and may even end up with one of the actor's thighs over the top of your chair!
Before jumping in, we come to the topic of former X Factor and I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! contestant, Jake Quickenden. When famous faces of this sort are cast in big roles such as the one he's taking up in Hair the Musical, eyebrows are raised and snobbery reigns supreme. Perhaps it is this that has given Quickenden the drive to smash this out of the park.
Quickenden is a natural as Berger. He's effeminate, campy, and over the top, but somehow manages to evade falling too deeply into any one stereotype. Commanding throughout, he demands the attention of all whenever he opens his mouth, whether it be to chat to his fellow New York City hippies, or impress us all with his better-than-ever vocal ability. If a career in theatre is something Quickenden would like to jump into full-time in the future, I'm sure he'd be more than welcome. I hope to see him up on stage more often in the coming years.
Marcus Collins, also of X Factor fame, was another one who felt right at home on the stage. His performance kicked off with some mic issues, but he dealt with them like an utter professional. Hud is one of those characters you instantly get behind, and that's no doubt in part down to Collins' charm.
The pair are a group of hippies set within a much larger group living in New York City. With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, and the draft pulling in candidates for the military as each day passes, they're a bunch willing to protest and put their reputation on the line in a bid to bring the war to an end. With a member of their group (Claude, played by Paul Wilkins) being readied to join the ranks, they do their all to try and stop him from making a decision that goes against everything they stand for. Wilkins plays the conflicted youth with style, bringing gravitas to a role that could easily have fallen to the wayside.
Whilst the narrative centres around his journey, this is a true ensemble cast that each demand the spotlight at various times throughout the performance. One of the major standouts is Aiesha Pease as Dionne, who has one of the best vocal ranges I've had the pleasure of experiencing in person.
Tom Bales has to be highlighted for his hilarious turn as Margaret Mead. Picking out a member of the audience to play alongside, he received some of the biggest laughs of the night as he paraded on and off the stage in drag, hoping to discover the ins-and-outs of hippy culture.
When it comes to stage production, design, use of props and materials and awesome choreography, this is one of the most intricate and best-performed shows I've seen. The cast are consistently in the right spots, hitting the right beats and completely in time with one another. Whether they're waving protest signs above their heads, or using a long sheet of material to cover one another, they're telling a visual story at every minute.
If you're looking for a feel-good show, you can't really go much bigger than Hair the Musical. Whilst there are times I wished the storyline had a bit more fleshing out, and the second Act's hallucination scene could have had a minute or two shaved off, these are minor issues. On the whole, the performance is sure to have you up on your feet by the time it's reached its conclusion, dancing and singing along and, if you're lucky, being pulled up to join the cast on stage for a boogie.
Hair the Musical runs at the Palace Theatre Manchester until Saturday, April 13, 2019.