Otaki Players let the sunshine in

Otaki Players cast of Hair

HAIR – THE ROCK MUSICAL, OTAKI PLAYERS SOCIETY. AUGUST 2021 PRODUCTION

Reviewed by PENELOPE HAINES

For those of us who came of age in the late 1960’s, the impact of the musical Hair was unavoidable. The cheerful, singable numbers broadcast on radio pop-stations, spoke to the aspirations of our age-group.

“Let the sunshine in,” “Aquarius,” “Good morning Starshine” ….. In that age of optimism, we sang them all and bought into the promise of peace and love, while marvelling at how well Gerome Ragni and James Rado had captured the spirit of our generation in their book and lyrics.

Hair’s rock-based vibe, vastly different to previous musicals, was representative of the massive social shift going on in America where many young people struggled to escape stuffy establishment values and move into a new world order which valued freedom, social liberty and non-conformity. For Hair was born out of the fierce resentment and deep repugnance of young Americans protesting the Vietnam war and the draft that sentenced young men to die for the military-industrial interests of a generation of American politicians.

The show may have been forged from protest, but its core is one of affirmation. The counter-culture ‘tribe’ of young people experimenting with sex, drugs, astrology and flower power resonate as forcefully today as they did half a century ago. Young people still feel they have good reason to distrust the establishment and their rebellion against an older generation is as old as time itself.

The Ōtaki Players Society production, directed by Tracy Wills-Wright, achieves a lovely balance – setting the musical in its 1960’s historical context, whilst reminding us that some themes are forever relevant. Under her able direction, the cast convincingly embrace the hippy world of drugs, sex, love and war.

Nick O’Brien’s Berger is delightful as an exuberant and reckless hippy who rips off his trousers within minutes of the show’s opening. His hedonistic and morally ambiguous character sets the tone of the musical.

Newcomer Connor Norris plays Claude, the boy drafted to a war while a social/sexual revolution takes place around him. Connor does a fine job of capturing Claude’s conflicted emotions when he joins the men tossing their draft cards onto a fire – only to change his mind and retrieve his.

Hair is a sung-through musical, allowing the songs to tell the story. The plot, loosely about a young man afraid of being drafted for the Vietnam War, is rather tenuous being mostly a series of sketches embracing drug culture, teenage rebellion and sexual freedom. It requires a strong company to provide the musical continuity that structures and holds the show together and the Ōtaki Players didn’t disappoint us. They robustly embraced the tribal ethos and culture of the show’s numerous songs, convincingly contrasting the darker messages of the plot with the naïve innocence of Utopian philosophy. Graham Orchard is an experienced Musical Director, and he and his assistant, Andrea King get the best from their talented cast.

Excellent dance sequences added excitement and movement to the whole, and a special note should be made of the many delightful and often humorous cameo performances by individual cast members. Each solo characterisation added depth and richness to the whole.

The wardrobe department must have had fun with the psychedelic costumes! The vivid colours shone on the stage adding to the youthful vibrancy of this production. Hair and makeup were historically appropriate, and the simple set allowed the cast to move freely between numbers.

As always there are a host of behind the scenes supporters who work hard to bring a show to life, and the unique challenges and uncertainties of producing a show in the time of Covid makes this show all the more admirable.

The house was sold out on the night I attended, so I recommend you get your tickets soon so you don’t miss out on the fun. I thoroughly recommend Hair as a great night’s entertainment.

UPDATE

Ōtaki Players Society president Barny Thorpe says it is a matter of wait and see for the rest of the scheduled performances.

“We have done our best to contact ticket holders for upcoming shows and we will review the situation when we hear the government announcement on lockdown tomorrow,” says Barny, who is also the show’s production manager.

With fantastic reviews and sold out shows it is hoped the show will go on.

Barny says the committee met Tuesday and decided on the postponement process. He says with a cast of 25, a band of nine, tech team, make-up and wigs, there are a lot of people affected and keeping everyone together will be a major challenge.

For updates and show information visit www.otakiplayers.nz

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