Welcome to the Age of Aquarius: What we thought of Hair - The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Make love, not war.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 1:01 pm
Welcome to the Age of Aquarius.

One of the things I love most about the theatre is its immersive quality.

Whatever you have been doing that day is lost in the moment the lights go down, and the curtain goes up.

And it was no different following the opening notes of Hair - The Musical, as the show's 50th anniversary kicked off at Sunderland Empire.

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The stage? Psychedelic. The music? Anthemic. The cast? Absolutely channelling the liberation of being a teenager in the shadow of the Vietnam War.

We were immediately transported to the Age of Aquarius - 1967, with a group of teenagers living freely as conflict rages on.

Crazy, hazy and colourful; the show is frantic, bounding from one musical number with ease, barely giving you time to pause for breath.

Hair - The Musical is on at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, May 11.

At times, it is so fast and loose that it leaves you feeling out of sorts with the story, which follows Claude (Paul Wilkins) who wrestles with disappointing his family by refusing his Army draft, like his friends, or joining the ranks in war.

For all the cast make us laugh, tap our feet and clap along, they give us a real sense of what it was like to be growing up at a time when you feel so at odds with everything going on in your country.

We watch on as Claude faces his inner demons, follow Sheila (played impeccably by Hollyoaks' Daisy Wood-Davis) as she takes a stand for her beliefs and a hilariously lovable Berger (Dancing on Ice champion Jake Quickenden) as he immerses himself in everything about being a teenager in the 1960s.

One of the biggest compliments I can pay to the show's cast is that they all brought something different to the tribe of characters they play.

Jake Quickenden stars as Berger in the 50th anniversary production of Hair.

A bit of Jeanie (Alison Arnopp) was recognisable in all of us - yearning after the man she loves, hoping to be loved in return.

Woof (Bradley Judge) brought the laughs (and the cheers) while Dionne (Aiesha Pease) brought soul with her unbelievable vocals.

Making a splash when it first opened in theatres in 1967, Hair does not shy away from controversy, tackling race, sexual freedom and drug use among its themes.

Its nude scene, at the end of the first act is notorious, but tastefully executed in the 50th anniversary production, under muted, candle-like light.

Hair premiered in 1967 in New York.

But for me, the stand-out moment came as the show ended.

As the cast took their bows, they headed out into the stalls to lead members of the public onto the stage.

Those people joined the tribe, losing themselves in the enchanting music as the encore played out.

It reminds you that the audience truly do play a part in making a show what it is.

One thing is for sure - Hair is an experience like no other, and a must-see if you are looking for incredible music, and equally incredible performances.

Jeanie and Claude share a moment.