Well, what a year it's been for drag acts, naked people, and flutes on stage*!
Anything sub-titled "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" was never going to appeal to me much, but then I had never seen Hair on stage, and I am a completist. So I suppose it is not surprising that I have quite mixed feelings about this one. Like Cats, I have to separate the production from the content - except it's even harder here, because while I am quite fond of cats, I am not a fan of hippies.
This production compounded that dislike [Editor' note: that's dislike of hippies, for those lacking basic reading comprehension skills], because while in the original Broadway production (as I understand it) and the film, there seemed to be much greater emphasis on the political side of the Tribe, both on resistance to the Vietnam draft, and on the issue of racial discrimination; in this production, the characters burn their draft cards like it's a game, and it's sort of hard to emphasise discrimination against black people when there are no actual black people in the cast. These hippies aren't activists - even Sheila, their "Joan of Arc", returns from a protest at the Pentagon (it's not clear against what), and talks about how she saw it levitate. These hippies are mere vague, aimable nutters who spend their time getting stoned, making love and sponging off their parents. So it's hard for me to feel all that sorry when one of them does, at last, get a haircut and a job.
That said - let's get to the pros and cons of the production, as opposed to the vehicle (with its negligible plot, uninteresting songs and bodgy lyrics).
1. Pete Ricardo is both perfectly cast and completely at home in the role of Claude. He owned that stage from the beginning. His voice is beautiful, he delivered his songs with conviction and ease, and he looked totally right for the part. His Claude was more wistful than dynamic, but it worked.
2. There are an extraordinary number of list songs in this show, or nonsense lyrics, or non-sequiturs. Stuff that is hard to remember, especially when the music is not particularly tuneful. I was very impressed at how well-rehearsed the cast was - I did not detect a single fumble on lyrics or dialogue, which is no mean feat for an amateur company on opening night with difficult material.
3. A lovely, endearing, convincing performance from Maigan Fowler as Jeannie.
4. The pyschedelic sign nodding to Occupy Wall Street.
5. Two smashing drag acts - first Ben Kindon as Claude's mother channelling Max Gambale channelling Marge Simpson; then a truly hilarious turn from Greg Sollis as "Margaret Mead".
6. Strong perfomances from some relative newcomers in the supporting and chorus roles - nice to see a new generation of young performers moving up through the ranks.
7. Good costumes from Christine Pawlicki and some innovative choreography from Jordan Kelly.
1. Pete Ricardo might have owned it, but Will Huang certainly brought it. I'm always happy to see Will Huang in a show, and he pulled out all the stops here - but he was just miscast as Hud, who's a black man. Huang's still one of the best dancers in the cast; nailed the voice; that gorgeous baritone was even deeper and richer than usual - but he's still not a black man. Sorry, Will - you were as great as always, and couldn't have done more. (If I'd shut my eyes it might have worked, but I couldn't, as I was waiting til the end of Act 1 to see if you lived up to your name...**)
2. Similarly - everyone loves Tim Stiles, right? Including me. But again, he's miscast here. Berger is the comedian of the group, but that's not all he is. Stiles is 20 years too old for this part and Berger and Claude had none of the sexual chemistry the script kept telling us about. At one point, Berger says to the audience: "I know what you're thinking- is it a boy or a girl?". Dude, nobody was thinking that. Stiles is hugely entertaining, but just not the right man for that particular part.
3. The band, led by Geoff Grey, was pretty good for the most part, but I'm not sure there were good enough reasons to have them on stage (though they certainly dressed for it!) instead of the perfectly good Q orchestra pit. Must have been awkward for those in the nude scene. And they drowned out the singers quite often, even big voices like Tim Stiles'.
4. The bloody singalong at the end. I know Stephen Pike loves a good singalong, and I know that this a show which has always encouraged that participation at the finale, so I have no right to complain. And much of the audience got right into it. So probably the right choice, but it still made me cringe.
5. The famous nude scene - I suppose I would have whinged about this had it been omitted, and it was very discreetly lit and so forth, but it's pointless.
1. Seriously, if your show really needs people with certain characteristics for the script to make sense, make sure you have those people in your cast. Having a bunch of people who aren't black singing about being black is, at the least, uncomfortable.
2. Some of the cast didn't quite have big enough voices for the roles (while a couple who did were wasted in second-tier roles).
3. The farewell to Claude scene was insanely drawn out and dull.
4. Ditto the most lengthy and self-indulgent curtain call I've ever had to applaud through.
CONCLUSION: This particular show will never be my personal cup of hash tea. But this production still has much to recommend it, and, as I've said elsewhere, if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will like.
* Drag Acts - We started the year with Matt Chardon O'Dea's impressive falsetto in Chicago, then the touring Men In Pink Tights, followed by the two Ednas - Everage, in the Barry Humphries' putative Farewell Tour, and Max Gambale's Mrs Turnblad in Hairspray. Now a double feature in Hair with Ben Kindon reprising Gambale's Marge Simpson voice as Claude's mother, and Greg Sollis quite outstanding as Margaret Mead. And still to come are the all-male Pirates of Penzance and Les Ballets Trockadero.
- Naked people - Everyman's Pool (no water), off-Broadway cult sensation Naked Boys Singing (I had a ticket in the middle of D row, and then they cancelled the Friday night show, boo!), Act 1 of Hair, and Ladies' Night in a couple of weeks.
- Flutes on stage: Hair, Cats, The Venetian Twins, and two very different productions of The Magic Flute (AO and COW). And there should by rights have been a couple in Iolanthe, except Q Players used the updated libretto, sans Arcadian shepherds etc.
** Cheap joke, but you were all thinking it.