There’s a party on right now at Chapel off Chapel and everyone is invited. StageArt’s production of the evergreen tribal musical Hair is every bit the loving, joyous celebration it is intended to be.
Capturing the energy, passion and freelove vibe of the characters of Hair is as vital to staging the show as creating lavish costumes for Hello, Dolly! or choreographing spectacular tap steps for 42nd St. It is very pleasing to report that Director Robbie Carmelotti has infused his young, talented and enthusiastic cast with lashings of energy and spirit. Their love of each other and of the audience and of performing the material is palpable and completely infectious.
Setting this staging apart, besides the principal pleasure of basking in the radiant love of the cast, is Carmellotti’s deft touches with the emotional and human elements of the story. Hair turned music theatre on its head in 1967, not just for replacing violins with guitars, but by being a concept show with very little dialogue. The storytelling is extremely challenging but very powerful when delivered as effectively as it is here. Characters and relationships are distinctly defined, and Claude’s journey is involving and, ultimately, deeply moving.
The infamous nude scene is handled with dignity and maturity. While nudity may be less startling in this cable tv age, the intimate nature of the performance space heightens the impact of the scene.
Paul Malek’s choreography is tight, sharp and extremely enjoyable to watch. Malek distinguishes the cavalcade of songs with a wide variety of styles and formations, and is particularly successful at having the dance appear to just be happening spontaneously.
Musical director Cameron Thomas’ fine work in preparing the cast was significantly let down on opening night by microphone interference. Diction and harmonies are strong, although several cast members appear to be singing at volumes too high for the sensitive microphones. These difficulties will surely be smoothed as the season progresses.
While opening night was marred by sound issues, the production nonetheless arrives in fine shape, filling the Chapel off Chapel performing space like never before. Carmellotti also designed the set: a massive rising sun mural flanked by staircases and decorated with rugs and sofas for an authentic ‘lived in’ effect.
Lighting designer Jason Bovaird greatly enhances the party atmosphere with almost nonstop lighting cues that fill the space with colour and texture. Bovaird’s achievement with matching the colour of the lights with the lyrics in “Walking in Space” is nothing short of amazing. Richard Perdiriau’s A/V presentation on the Vietnam War adds significantly to the depth of the drama in act two. Special mention also to dome operators Simone Speakman and Jessica Quale for pinpointing the lead singers with such tight precision.
Ashley Rousetty delivers an outstanding lead performance as the beautifully crush-worthy Claude, impressing with his gorgeous singing and riveting our attention to Claude’s torturous dilemma. Performing with an effortlessly centred focus, Rousetty’s beautifully liquid facial features transmit the inner battle between pleasure, duty and morality that tears apart Claude. Strong as act one is, it really takes off during Rousetty’s sensational performance, with the full company, of the title number “Hair.”
Sam Kitchen successfully portrays the lusty, self-centred peacock Berger, connecting brilliantly with the audience and leading the cast in energy and power. Renee Pope-Munro uses her delicate stature to capture the delicacy of the well-meaning Sheila, and sings up a storm, particularly in “I Believe In Love.”
The company is very well matched in focus and energy, performing as a cohesive team as if they have been doing so for many months. Almost all cast members have their moment in the spotlight at some stage. Veronice Wnuk is a delightful Chrissy, nailing the gentle humour in “Frank Mills.” Jessica Barlow is a comic standout as the heavily pregnant, deluded young Jeanie. The delicious twinkle in Barlow’s eye can create laughs from the most innocent of lines, and she is an absolute pleasure to watch. Samuel Dariol has a ball with the inane sexuality of the spunky Woof. Ed Deganos brings authority and presence to the role of Hud.
Forty-six years after its premiere, Hair has the double attraction of fun and excitement for younger fans and nostalgia for the more seasoned theatregoers. In both cases, this season is recommended viewing.
Photos: Belinda Strodder
This review written for Theatre People 2 February 2013