Anti-war message still resonates
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.
Cast of the tribal rock musical Hair, let it all down and out during a scene from the Abbey Musical Theatre show.