The summer of love has returned to Chapel off Chapel this month thanks to StageArt’s engaging revival of everyone’s favorite hippie-tribal-love-rock-musical.
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The summer of love has returned to Chapel off Chapel this month thanks to StageArt’s engaging revival of everyone’s favorite hippie-tribal-love-rock-musical, Hair. Okay, maybe it’s the only hippie-tribal-love-rock-musical around but it’s a unique and popular piece of music theatre. This production, based on the recent Tony Award winning Broadway revival from 2009, celebrates the nostalgia of the piece while still maintaining a vital energy and relevance.

The audience is lead into the performance space by several roving hippies and it’s as if we’ve stumbled into a raging party in full swing. The cast chat, smoke and dance around the stage, which is set up as a ramshackle, late 1960’s share house, complete with beanbags, shabby sofas (where Cameron Thomas’ accomplished five-piece band jam out) and multiple balcony platforms. The back wall of the space is painted in an earthy orange tone with bright blue mosaic tiles snaking across the surface. As the performance progresses this backdrop explodes into a trippy kaleidoscope of colour thanks to Jason Bovaird’s vibrant lighting design.

Hairunfolds through a series of songs and vignettes relating to the hippie ethos (free love, peace, drug consumption etc.). A potentially intriguing love triangle is briefly mentioned but never really developed, and the latter part of the show focuses on the inexplicable decision of our central figure, Claude (Ashley Rousetty) to leave the tribe and go to Vietnam. Throughout Hair, Claude constantly ignores conscription, but then at the end of the show he appears in full uniform, emotionally numb and scarred by the battlefield. We aren’t privy to Claude’s epiphany and therefore this moment is rather puzzling.

This production comes to life through its songs and the performances of the cast. The ensemble’s energy is infectious, and when they sing together in full voice it is stunning. The camaraderie and discipline of the performers is also highlighted through Paul Malek’s exhilarating choreography, which successfully combines obsolescent and contemporary dance styles.

Ashley Rousetty’s portrayal of Claude is one of the highlights of Hair. He has the requisite look of wide-eyed optimism, he nails the Manchester accent, and his vocals are magnificent. Samuel Dariol and Jessica Barlow as Woof and Jeanie respectively had me in stitches and Gina Mets’ powerful voice almost tore the roof off the chapel. However, the emotional anchor of the piece is Renee Pope-Munro as Sheila. Her performance is full of warmth, and she possesses a beautifully powerful voice that tears through ‘Easy to Be Hard.

Some moments in the production aren’t as successful. The majority of the wigs worn by the cast are pretty dodgy-looking and some performers’ lack of diction lead to a loss of clarity in certain songs. Nor were the cast helped by the major sound issues which plagued the performance. There was a pervading, and increasingly irritating scratching coming from the body microphones; a major distraction for the audience.

It’s been a decade since Melbourne last saw a professional production of Hair, staged by The Production Company, and over 40 years since the original 1971 cast spread the message of peace and love to the Melburnian masses. Having never seen a production of the show previously, on leaving the theatre this reviewer was struck by just how influential Hair has been on modern music theatre. Its groundbreaking style and subject matter paved the way for contemporary rock musicals such as Spring Awakening, Next To Normal, Passing Strange and Green Day’s epic punk opera, American Idiot. Director Robbie Carmellotti and his cast have created a joyous production that all involved should be immensely proud of. Oh, and they do the naked scene too. Peace.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

StageArt presents

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Music: Galt MacDermot

Lyrics: James Rado & Gerome Ragni

Book: James Rado & Gerome Ragni

Directed by Robbie Carmellotti

Chapel off Chapel, Prahran

31 January – 17 February


Midsumma Festival

13 January – 3 February

Reuben Liversidge
About the Author
Reuben Liversidge is based in Melbourne. He has trained in music theatre at the VCA, film and theatre at LaTrobe University, and currently works as Head Talent Agent for the Talent Company of Australia.