Anti-war mes­sage still res­onates

The Tribune (NZ) - - PERFORMANCE -

By Gerome Ragni & James Rado Di­rected for Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre by Damian Thorne Mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Roger Buchanan Chore­og­ra­phy Ni­cola Mor­ri­son Cen­ten­nial Au­di­to­rium, May 19 – June 4 Re­viewed by Richard Mays

Mojo was miss­ing dur­ing the first stanza of this retro rock mu­si­cal. Maybe that was down to its mu­si­cal di­rec­tor be­ing ab­sent for open­ing night. Despite the star-stud­ded band, and the will­ing­ness of an en­er­getic cast, the open­ing scenes were a bit ‘hairy’, lack­ing or­ganic co­he­sion.

This wasn’t helped by a muddy sound mix that made some cho­rus work semi in­tel­li­gi­ble.

For­tu­nately, most things were back on track for the sec­ond half, helped by back pro­jec­tions from the Viet­nam War era, in­clud­ing closer-to-home street con­flicts that starred none other than a young Tim Shad­bolt, spokesper­son in the 60s and 70s for the Pro­gres­sive Youth Move­ment.

There’s a say­ing that any­one who re­mem­bers the 60s wasn’t re­ally there, but one of the co­nun­drums for a mod­ern pro- duc­tion of this 60s anti-war stoner ‘the­atri­cal hap­pen­ing’ is how will any­one who wasn’t there, get it?

Di­rec­tor Damien Thorne opts to get around this by mak­ing his alt crowd of dropouts and street kids, in their anti-uni­forms by Philip Haus­man, decade-generic. He also in­cludes anachro­nisms such as cur­rent ref­er­ences to the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial race, a rap ver­sion of sig­na­ture song Aquarius, and tributes to David Bowie and Prince.

He is blessed with a stun­ning cast. Bex Palmer as Berger, the ‘psy­che­delic teddy-bear’, is a pocket dy­namo. Tyrell Beck as an Aladdin Sane era Claude, cap­tures the angst of a young man called up in the Viet­nam or AnyWar draft.

Ash­leigh Blu­mont – a lovely Good Morn­ing Starshine, Drew Pouniu, Kate Peth­er­ick all have per­for­mance tal­ent to burn, while Mike Whit­ton made psy­che­delic panto dame Mar­garet Mead a mem­o­rable cameo. The Yippy cho­rus (Yip­pies were the hippy era’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists) in the final scenes was par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive.

The vi­sion of a youth re­bel­lion in search of a bet­ter more peace­able and eq­ui­table world alas never came to pass. This pro­duc­tion at least ac­knowl­edges their ef­forts.

PHOTO: WAR­WICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Cast of the tribal rock mu­si­cal Hair, let it all down and out dur­ing a scene from the Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre show.

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