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Hair The Musical at Alexandra Theatre Birmingham - Review

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Ground-breaking hippie musical is back on tour
It's amazingly half a century since American musical Hair made waves as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and a voice for a new generation, but does the show still cut it with modern audiences?

Hair, musical, Birmingham
Will Hair grow on you?

This 50 year anniversary tour brings all the hippie trippy craziness of Hair back to Birmingham, where it stops at the Alexandra Theatre for a week from April 29 to May 4. It then continues the tour taking in other Midland venues including Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from July 23 to 27.

The Grammy Award-winning show first aired in 1967 in New York when it was seen as a controversial "tribal love rock musical" and it has resurfaced in updated forms over the decades; the latest of which is this revival for its 50th anniversary.

The opening scene brings it bang up to date with sound bites about Trump and the Iraq War, plus there's a nod to America having a Black president in one of the songs.

It's still set in the 1960s though and while the themes of homosexuality, drug taking and mixed race relationships are no longer as controversial as they would have been in that era, there is still much of it that resonates today as this musical was well ahead of its time.

It's interesting to see that issues over air pollution haven't changed in 50 years and the song Air sounds like something that could have been written by one of the Extinction Rebellion protesters in London just last week.

Hair, musical, Birmingham
It's 50 years since its creation

Free choice, the futility of war and youths who are at odds with the generation before them all strike a chord with current times in a musical of many layers.

This show is about relationships on one level and yet politically astute on one another - although the politics does relate to American controversies of the 1960s, some of which will be lost to younger viewers and dates it slightly.

The real strength, however, is the soundtrack. Packed with powerfully emotive and choral songs, Hair may be well known for its nudity scene, but it has clearly made more of an impact on a musical level.

Tunes that have become embedded in daily life originated in this show. Songs like Let The Sun Shine In, Aquarius, I Got Life and Good Morning Starshine.

Director Jonathan O'Boyle has a cast of strong singers at his disposal, who make good work of the fantastic playlist. There's also musicians on stage who make the live music feel more atmospheric.

There's some ex-X Factor contestants of Jake Quickenden and Marcus Collins, who both pack quite a punch with their singing. Although on the acting side, Quickenden doesn't have the presence on stage to fit into his role as hippie leader Berger and it's hard to imagine that he is leading this mixed bunch of outsiders.

Meanwhile, Hollyoaks actress Daisy Wood-Davis is well cast as young aspirational hippie Sheila. Lesser known Paul Wilkins as Claude, whose been called up for the Vietnam War, really impresses too.

If you don't know the story, it's 1967 and Hair's hippie 'tribe' of youngsters in the East Village of New York are yearning to change the world, questioning authority and the American flag. Wild, colourful, sexually liberated and free, they are united in protest and song, under the shadow of the Vietnam War.

Hair, musical, Birmingham
Jake Quickenden plays Berger

Hair captures the emotion of an iconic time in history and is even based on real-life events, including the nude scene that the writers Rado and Ragni witnessed in New York's Central Park and later added to the show.

That's actually done in a considered way at the end of the first act so it doesn't feel cheap or sordid, but to signify what the characters stood for.

There's no clear storyline but a mesh of feelings, back stories, hallucinations and tough decisions that are weaved together. Yes, it can feel crazy and confusing at times but it can also look and sound very beautiful too.

Hair is not just a musical, it was a ground-breaking, artistic creation that played its part in heralding in social change. For that reason alone it's worth catching this enigmatic piece of theatre history.

RATING - 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Why? See historic hippie musical in Birmingham
When: Until May 4 in Birmingham . Also Wolverhampton Grand
Phone: ‪08448 713 011‬
Where: Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham or Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
Cost: From 20
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