Paul Wilkins as Claude and the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL

Paul Wilkins as Claude and the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK tour. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Paul Wilkins talks to Frankly My Dear UK about his role as Claude in the 50th-anniversary tour of legendary rock musical HAIR

Following its critically acclaimed run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre and a sell-out run at London’s The Vaults, the 50th-anniversary production of the legendary rock musical HAIR bursts out in full psychedelic glory at Manchester’s Palace Theatre this week.

Set in 1967, HAIR tells the story of a group of hippie ‘tribe’ youngsters in the East Village of New York who are yearning to change the world by questioning authority and the American flag.
Wild, colourful, sexually liberated and free, the musical features a Grammy award-winning score with iconic hits such as AQUARIUS, LET THE SUNSHINE IN, I GOT LIFE and GOOD MORNING STARSHINE, as well as an all-star cast including DANCING ON ICE Winner Jake Quickenden, HOLLYOAKS’ Daisy Wood-Davis and X-FACTOR Finalist Marcus Collins.

Ahead of its run at ‘home-coming run’ Manchester’s Palace Theatre this week, Paul Wilkins talks to Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK about his role as Claude and why HAIR has been a challenge for him in more ways than one.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): For those who aren’t familiar with the musical, can you start by telling us a little bit about the show and the character that you play?

Paul Wilkins (PW): HAIR was a musical written in 1967 and at the time it was extremely controversial because it was highlighting a lot of things that weren’t equal in American society. It is a piece that highlights the importance of equality, racial fairness and LGBT rights and also, in particular to my character, it highlights how important is to, especially for a young person, to follow your gut instincts and not conform to do what is correct. I play a character called Claude who is from a family of wealth, almost the American dream type of family. Claude is influenced on the outside by a hippie tribe and particularly by his best friend Berger and Shelia. As his family are very religious, they distil pride in him joining up to the Army when the drafts came in for the Vietnam War. He is torn between two worlds – whether to go away to Vietnam and do his parents proud or to feel ostracised by his parents and not conform, to carry on being a part of what was a very beautiful and fleeting movement.

FMD: What appealed to you about the role and this particular production?

PW: I think the main thing was that it scared me. I’ve had a few people describe me as quite straight-laced and I really wanted to go against that and find a side of myself that I can apply to Claude. We get naked obviously, as a lot of people know and that was something that made me very anxious. But now I’ve done that it’s helping me to develop as a person so that I think HAIR in its entirety really helps the viewer and anyone else involved to strip back what they think is right or what is expected of society and start afresh. It’s really fun and it’s really beautiful.

Paul Wilkins as Claude and the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL

Paul Wilkins as Claude and the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

FMD: HAIR is also quite an immersive show. Does that affect the way you approach a role and how you are with the audience?

PW: Yeah, we certainly interact with the audience. The only thing with going out on tour is we have different sized theatres. At the moment we’re playing Cheltenham which is a smaller house, there is about 600 seats and then we’ll be playing Sunderland and Manchester so its means the interactive and immersive side of things becomes a lot less concentrated the more people you have in the audience. But we try our absolute very best to get to every single person and just send it up to the rafters.

FMD: As a show that portrays a very specific time in history, how do you think it resonates with people today?

PW: I think every era has something going on there in which a younger generation is being told to be a certain way. With Brexit that is going on at the moment, no one really knows what the outcome is going to be and that’s almost identical to the Vietnam War. It’s out of our control because the decision has been made, like the Vietnam War, and I don’t think many people really know what’s going on and are just kind of going along with it. HAIR is a very important piece to highlight to people that actually you need to decide what it is that you want to do. That’s what I take from it and that’s the journey that I take as Claude.

FMD: The 50th-anniversary tour has already had a successful run at the Hope Mill Theatre as well as The Vaults in London. Now it’s on a UK tour, what is it about this particular production that you think is so successful?

PW: I think it’s the love that every single person who is part of the tribe gives to each other. Every soloist who sings, absolute focus is given into the tribe through that person and it’s really, really nice to see. I think audience members can’t help but smile at the end and certain people just want to get on stage. Last night, bless her, I was dancing with this lady who whispered in my ear “I shouldn’t be doing this, I turned 80 the other day” and I was like, “Nah, we’re going to keep dancing” and we were having such a wonderful time. Personally, I’m loving it. It’s my first UK tour so it’s weird not being in my own house and having to share with a family but it’s also really nice. You get to spend more time with your cast members which in effect is going to help our relationship on stage stronger.

FMD: It sounds like this production has been both a challenge and an experience for you?

PW: Oh yeah. I mean the tour life isn’t for everybody. My girlfriend is back in London working there and I get to see her every so often so that’s difficult. I think being in musical theatre, in general, is quite hard if you have a family and you are very close to them like I am. They are back in Portsmouth and when you’re working six days a week and then if I’m up in Edinburgh and Sunday is my day off, I’m not going to be able to get back to Portsmouth to see them so there is pros and cons to being on tour.

HAIR THE MUSICAL runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre from 8 until 13 April 2019.