The Whingers finally made their stage debuts! Dancing in a musical! Wearing flowers in their hair! Tripping! (Over the carpet)
And we can truthfully tell you: we were utterly fabulous! And you missed it.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Gielgud Theatre London. Not The Al Hirschfeld Theatre on The Broadway where Hair is still playing. And there was yet another first. This is the full original cast brought over from the Broadway revival and yes, we’re still here in New York. Got that? Confused? We are.
And you know what? It’s so hot on a West End stage we were tempted to strip (they’ve even installed extra generators in the street for some reason). Not that the heat stopped us gyrating wildly, giving our all like the troupers we are. We won’t need understudies. You won’t find a slip in your programme or hear groans from the audience as an announcement just before the curtain rises intones “Due to their indisposition The Whingers will not be appearing”. We’ll do 8 shows a week quite happily. And we promise to keep our clothes on. Yes, we were first on stage as the cast invited the audience to join them on stage at the end of the show (about 200 apparently counted by ushers with clickers, it’s a health and safety thing) and we were the last off. They even extended the curtain call at last Saturday night’s preview so impressive were our performances. See, we told you we were fabulous.
Yes, great fun and cynically guaranteed to get those who partake leaving on a high.
It’s just a shame that that was the best part of the evening.
To be fair, this is probably the best silk purse that could be made out of the sow’s ear that is Hair. The singing is great (though the lyrics are sometimes inaudible), the performances have enough energy to make you wonder just why that extra generator is necessary. Many of the songs are familiar enough from the often excellent score (book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot) that you should be readily seduced: ‘Let The Sun Shine In’, ‘I Got Life’, ‘Hair’, ‘Good Morning Starshine’ and ‘Aquarius’.
We just didn’t dig it man.
Thank goodness we didn’t pay £65 for a top price seat or £85 for a premium seat or £55 for a group booking seat. We didn’t pay because we were kindly invited as representatives of the press because we just are that grand now. Which was interesting because we found ourselves wondering to ourselves and each other, “What would we have thought of it if we were ordinary people rather than part of a global brand?”
Well, people DO like it. They were ovating (there were a lot of Americans in). We know people who have paid £20 for day seats in the front row and have had a whale of a time.
But for some reason the music never really entered our souls.
It doesn’t help that Hair doesn’t really have a plot to speak of. Nor that – for better or for worse – this production is a Hair preserved-in-aspic (or, this being the sixties, possibly preserved in Tupperware) . It is portrayed here in the manner of a museum piece with nothing to say on the provocative subjects of hippiedom, Vietnam (or war in general), draft-dodging, peace, love, pot, LSD or genitalia. It just presents them on the stage.
Forget the parallels that will no doubt de drawn with today. Sadly people are always dying in wars, and even Dave’s “national service” is unlikely to provoke more than tweeted discontent. A flower placed in the end of a gun’s barrel just evokes the mawkish sentimentality of a Michael Jackson concert.
And frankly when you get to the Whingers’ ages excitement at the prospect of gratuitous genitalia* begins to pall somewhat and these days is hardly rare on the London stage, anyway. So that was nothing to write home about (to the relief of the Whingers’ respective mothers) on that front. On the other hand it’s a long time since we’ve seen a knitted poncho on the stage.
We spent much of the time trying to picture what people would look like without long hair. Gavin Creel, it turns out, looks much better. Suddenly the Whingers found they were actually turning into their mothers and it was all most disconcerting.
The main entertainment in Diane Paulus‘ production comes from the interaction of the performers with the audience. Stairways have been built from the stage up to the Dress Circle to give people in medium-priced seats some interaction. What happens in the Upper Circle we really couldn’t say. Well we can actually as a little bird tells us they get the swings, that’s the few British performers in the show who cover other parts. You pays yer money you takes yer chances. And it would be chancy indeed, trying to make it down from there onto the stage for the curtain call. We suggest bringing knotted bedsheets.
There were some entertaining performances, Creel is rather winning and impressed the Whingers with his ability to walk on the backs of stalls seats (row D) despite needing a helping hand from Phil to get down. Will Swenson is excellent as the hippie leader Berger which must be quite a stretch from his cult film career in Mormon cinema, but more importantly it’s all his own hair (no longer a practising Mormon – he doesn’t look Mormon at all). He ruffled Phil’s quiff and then shook his long tresses all over him, Phil got a distinct whiff of product: coconut.
Later on stage Will confirmed to Phil it wasn’t a wig. Of course! How could a wign not by Richard Mawbey be so convincing?
The Whingers frequently found performers standing on their seats, sitting on their laps or drinking their wine. Flowers were distributed amongst the audience and keen to get into the spirit of the evening and to find their inner hippies, the Whingers immediately sported them in their own trim barnets.
Don’t whatever you do buy a programme to look at the bios as they are mostly like this:
Will Swenson has been in a bunch of shows, and feels that it is important to be good to people.
And whilst it’s refreshing not to have the kind of bio that Anthea Turner might require, this is a unique opportunity to see a Broadway cast on a London Stage. We’re up for seeing more of it. But for once we actually wanted to know who these talented people are not their star signs.
No wonder the seat prices are so high. In the spirit of the Broadway there’s over 3o producers, from New York’s Public Theatre (where it originated) to Cameron Mackintosh, listed in the programme. If it ever runs into profit they’ll probably need as many accountants to sort through that little lot.
Given how expensive it is we’re finding it hard to be generous.
* The Whingers are staying in a broom cupboard at The Paramount in New York. Privacy is out of the question. Phil’s seen enough gratuitous genitalia to last him a lifetime, thank you very much.