A Review of WMTC’s “Hair” by Karen Ractliffe


Directed by Karen and Peter Pendleton. Musical directors Jude Hulson-Calvert and Ben Ross, Choreography Brooke Harvey.

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Last weekend saw the opening of the final show to be performed in the Wyong Memorial Hall which will shortly be demolished to make way for the proposed “Art House”, a new multi-purpose cultural venue that the council hopes to have completed by December 2015. Resident theatrical companies Wyong Drama Group and Wyong Musical Theatre Company will be spending the interim at nearby North Road. “We are temporarily relocating to the Wyong Grove Public School site for our next three productions,” says WMTC president, Fred Roome, “the first being our junior show of the year ‘The Little Mermaid’ to be performed in the September school holidays.”

But first, the company are saying their final farewell to the Memorial Hall, and they’re going out in style with the hit rock musical, Hair. This ground breaking show, penned by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot, won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival when it debuted off-Broadway in 1967 and many of the show’s songs became popular chart toppers. It was critically acclaimed for its dramatic innovations that challenged conventional expectations of theatre in terms of plot and character arc, tumbling over and through the fourth wall to engage with the audience.

Eschewing a traditional plotline, Hair begins like a revivalist show with the characters performing directly to the audience. Such story as there is revolves around a group of hippies squatting in Central Park, New York in the late nineteen-sixties. The first act serves to introduce the audience to the central character, Claude, who is struggling to decide what to do about being drafted to serve in Vietnam. We also meet his racially and sexually diverse group of friends and gain an impression of their complex relationships. The second act follows Claude through a hallucinogenic fantasy as he explores his identity and destiny with a surreal comic pastiche of American history, then a nightmarish depiction of the contemporary Vietnam war. Claude must choose between the demands of his conservative parents who want him to enlist, or his counter-revolutionary friends who encourage him to burn his draft card. Is he, ultimately, pacifist rebel, tragic hero or sacrificial lamb?

Hair quickly won praise for its mixed race cast, and its depiction of racial and sexual equality and inclusiveness – a first for the theatre of the time, as was its positive portrayal of sexual diversity. The show also enjoyed some notoriety for its use of strong language and profanity, on stage nudity, depiction of drug culture, and for its critique of the political establishment. The show captured the imagination of a generation with themes of peace, love and tolerance, joy and happiness that were central to the flower-power movement of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, but it remains a perennial favourite, demonstrating that its message is still as relevant now as it ever was.*

Karen and Peter Pendleton have made an impressive directorial debut with a show for Memorial Hall audiences to remember. Though a slightly more modest production than the original off-Broadway musical – the actors stop short of going full frontal on stage! – it is still an irreverent and daring performance that tests the boundaries of local theatre while remaining warm, charming and thoroughly entertaining.

The experience begins in the foyer and continues with the decoration of the hall, where the group has taken advantage of the imminent demolition to decorate the walls with psychedelic graffiti and slogans pertinent to the era. Classic rock tracks from the period accompany the progress of the audience into the theatre, and the presence of members of the company already on stage – quietly partying amongst themselves in a haze of smoke from unknown substances – immediately conjures thoughts of Woodstock. The rock revival-cum-party atmosphere continues as the lead players enter, introduce themselves and engage in social intercourse with the audience and each other.

Colourful costuming successfully represents the era, and lighting effects help to capture the mood and tone. The choreography is suitably cheeky, acrobatic and entertaining and contains touches that are both surprising and effective. The set is suggestive but quietly unassuming – ensuring the focus remains on the performers – and extends out into the hall to allow them to address the audience more directly and intimately. Music is provided by a reduced orchestra-band that is offset behind the scenery, allowing the exceptional voices among the cast to shine without being dominated by the music score.

WMTC has gathered a stellar cast from the Central Coast’s pool of talent, from those who are already proving themselves in the professional arena to some of our most promising upcoming performers. All the leads are excellent in their roles, engaging the audience with plenty of exuberance, personality (and sex appeal!), but all the cast are fully committed and perform with an energy that shows they thoroughly enjoy pushing the dramatic envelope. Their enthusiasm is infectious; the opening night audience was carried away with the vibrant emotional energy, in its poignancy and in its joy, and enjoyed singing and clapping along to the best known and loved numbers: “Aquarius”, “Good Morning Star-shine”, “Let the Sunshine In”. By the end, many were on their feet: a fitting tribute to the Memorial Hall’s swan song production.

Hair closes this weekend and performances are selling out, so book your tickets now to avoid missing out. Tickets are available from the WMTC website at http://www.wmtc.com.au or call 1300 366 470.

 

* Some biographical material courtesy of Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_(musical). Image courtesy of WMTC publicity.

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About About the Central Coast

"About the Central Coast" is a FREE monthly ezine, supported by an online blog, that provides readers with a one-stop shop for information and reviews on all their favourite theatre groups, bands and artists on and around the Central Coast. Subscription to the magazine is free; just send an email with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to about@y7mail.com The magazine is distributed by email on the first Thursday of each month. If you have an event you would like me to promote in the magazine, please send details at least three days prior. Items for the blog may be sent any time.
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