It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, a sea of colour adorns the stage, and a ‘tribe’ of radical, free-loving, long-haired youngsters transport us back to New York circa. 1967.
The show is set under the heavy cloud of the Vietnam War. With 475,000 American soldiers already serving and more being drafted in, this group of wild, peace-loving, politically protesting hippies are fighting conscription, authority and America.
HAIR The Musical defined the rock musical genre, with a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot. Ragni and Rado came upon a demonstration against the Vietnam War in Central Park in New York in April 1967 and saw 100,000 young people demonstrating for peace and deemed it a theatrical event of its own.
A short while later the show opened off-Broadway in the October of 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre and then opened on Broadway in 1968 running for 1,750 performances. It was ground-breaking in that it was the first of its kind to use a racially integrated cast and invite the audience to join them on stage at the end. The musical caused great controversy in its use of bad language, portrayal of recreational illegal drugs, sexual liberation and its disrespect and mockery of the American flag.
This 50th anniversary production of the legendary rock musical tells the story of a ‘tribe’ of youngsters in the East Village of New York. Centred around Claude, Berger, Sheila and their many friends who all seem to live, party and share pretty much everything together, the show tells the trials and tribulations of young people dealing with their frustrations and rebellion against the conservative society and lives that their parents lead. With the war looming overhead, much of the action centres around Claude who is struggling with his new-found pacifist principles and needs to decide whether he will resist the draft or go and fight like his country and parents want him to.
The cast are very much as one, we get to know very little about each individual character in the company, but they still each have their own songs and moments to shine throughout the production.
This new production stars Jake Quickenden (Dancing on Ice, X-Factor) as Berger who does a great job as setting up the care-free, all-loving, bare-all vibe of the show from the very beginning. He is a great singer, but really proves himself as an entertainer in this role.
Marcus Collins (X-Factor Finalist, Kinky Boots) is outstanding as Hud and has several musical numbers and vocal highlights as well as key character moments throughout the show where he gets to showcase his acting talent.
Daisy Wood-Davis (Hollyoaks, Dreamboats and Petticoats) is Sheila, taking on some more sombre songs who also has a fantastic vocal range. Other notable performances are from Paul Wilkins as Claude and Aiesha Pease as Dionne whose sensational vocals were the absolute stand-out highlight of the entire show.
The live band on stage directed by Gareth Bretherton did a superb job and the lighting design by Ben M Rogers really added to the production. Some technical difficulties early on halted the show for a few minutes but a professional cast dealt with it well.
This show utilises a talented cast matched with some feel-good and recognisable songs such as ‘Aquarius’, ‘Let the Sunshine In’, ‘I Got Life’ and ‘Good Morning Starshine’ alongside great choreography from William Whelton.
There is no book and no real storyline to the show. It feels chaotic and is difficult for an audience member to follow and get on board with if they have come along expecting to be engrossed in a gripping storyline. The first half did feel too long and was a constant flow of songs that continue to spring up from of no-where. Some theatrical devises were over-used and there is the danger for the show to lag as it keeps the same format throughout.
The messages of peace, love and political angst are still very much prevalent today, it just might be that an audience can’t quite connect with the show because of it’s lack of structure and clarity.
Fans of the production will enjoy the sheer talent and quality that this show oozes. The finale of “Let The Sunshine In” is loud, sincere and a beautiful moment.
The supremely talented cast worked hard to make the show enjoyable and truly did bring all the love, peace and psychedelic harmony of the summer of love to the Liverpool Empire and will continue to do so until Saturday 25th May.