Theatre Review: HAIR THE MUSICAL – Palace Theatre, Manchester


The cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK Tour 2019. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

While HAIR THE MUSICAL may not pack the punch it did back in 1967, this psychedelic and electric production is a joy to watch

4 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that many musicals are based on events that happened in the past but the 1967 phenomenon HAIR took the world by storm, tackling the Vietnam war as it was happening. The show’s number LET THE SUNSHINE IN became an anthem for peace advocates everywhere, and as this production opens following the inauguration of Trump, it feels more relevant than ever.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s electric production originally opened at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre in 2016, before transferring to The Vaults in London. O’Boyle works hard to get to the core of HAIR, heavily involving the audience as Berger (Jake Quickenden) clambers across the crowd in a thong, Margeret Mead (Tom Bales) spends most of a number sat on an audience members lap, and those in the stalls are dragged up onstage for the final curtain call. It’s funny, colourful and it’s impossible not to have fun with this show. However, a lot of what made HAIR controversial and revolutionary – it’s treatment of black characters, men dressed as women, expression of free love, use of drugs and nudity – isn’t nearly as shocking in 2018 as they were in 1967. Of course, the concepts are still entertaining to see play out on stage, but they lack the impact they once had.

Jake Quickenden as Berger & the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK Tour

Jake Quickenden as Berger & the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK Tour. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Galt MacDermot’s score is as phenomenal as ever, with all the usual hits standing out, AQUARIUS, HAIR, GOOD MORNING STARSHINE, I GOT LIFE and LET THE SUNSHINE IN. Plenty of other numbers stand out, such as MANCHESTER, ENGLAND, FRANK MILLS and ELECTRIC BLUES to name a few. The cast all have gorgeous individual voices, and the ensemble singing is possibly one of the strongest elements of the show. Every ensemble number is filled with energy, helped by the choreography of William Whelton.

The cast works together wonderfully as the tribe, and the feeling of friendship and community shines through. Led by Paul Wilkins as Claude, Wilkins gives an enigmatic performance, portraying the energy and turmoil required for this role. Reality star Jake Quickenden is also incredibly entertaining as Berger, giving an unrestrained and flamboyant performance with impressive vocals. The two somewhat lack the chemistry needed between the two characters, but they’re great fun to watch nevertheless. Another X FACTOR alumni, Marcus Collins, shows a quality comedic acting range as Hud, and though some of his numbers lacked energy, things soon picked up as the show went along. HOLLYOAKS star Daisy Wood-Davis is the passionate Shiela, and she really does have a beautiful voice.

Natalie Green as Mom & the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK Tour

Natalie Green as Mom & the cast of HAIR THE MUSICAL UK Tour. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Some other standout performers include Aisha Pease as Dionne, whose emotional riffs in LET THE SUNSHINE IN are heart-wrenching, Alison Arnopp as the endearing Jeanie, and Natalie Greene as Cassie. Bradley Judge is also hugely engaging as Woof, and the cast is a joy to watch overall. There isn’t one weak link.

This is all complimented by Maeve Black’s psychedelic set and Ben M Rogers’ lighting design which come together to form a trippy, electric cocktail that you won’t be able to take your eyes off.

While HAIR may not pack the punch it did back in 1967, it’s a hilarious, emotional microcosm of a time that we can still look at and learn from.

HAIR THE MUSICAL runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 13 April 2019.