Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hairy Noon and Night

When I want to see a musical, I don't let distance bother me. Six hours in train per day for a show isn't that bad. Honestly! But this fall, I've moved into a town with a couple of theatres that do musicals. One of them is called Åbo Svenska Teater. You might've heard me mention it here fleetingly once or twice.

So, of course I was there for Hair's premiere.

Beforehand, I was pretty sure I wouldn't like Hair. Hippies? 60s? Sounds like a bore, a nostalgia trip for people three times my age. I had to see it because, come on... it's in the theatre I spent so much time in during last year, Les Mis director Georg Malvius is directing, so on. But that doesn't mean I would much like the show.

After seeing the show, yes, it is a nostalgia trip for people three times my age. But! I also enjoyed myself enough to start thinking about when to the show the next time right after stepping out of the theatre.

Of the musicals I've seen, Hair strongly reminds me of Cats. Not because of the themes or the style of music, but because of the structure of the show. Hair, just like Cats, is a collection of scenes centered around the same theme and group of characters. I haven't seen many shows like this, and at first, I was a bit annoyed. Where's the story?

As the show progressed, I got more into it. Maybe it's sometimes nice not to force the events to follow a traditional story arc. I think, in this case, it worked better than a complicated story with these themes and songs would've.

From what I understand, different productions of Hair vary a lot script-wise, so I don't know if some of them are marginally more story-driven. Checking out the plot for the original stage show and the movie, ÅST's production seems to vaguely follow the film, while the one currently playing in Lahden kaupunginteatteri is closer to the original Broadway script. Hopefully I can see that one too and return to this.

When it comes to ÅST's Hair, there were scenes I didn't like. Most notable was the drug sequence during the first act. I suppose it's a good message to tell: doing drugs is hideously boring. No one's going to start because this musical made it seem exciting... That was the part of the show when I kept telling myself that yes, I was right, this is stupid. 

Luckily, I thoroughly enjoyed the second act. The story, the little of it you can find here, got a move on and I felt genuinely touched by it. Not to mention the amazing finale medley with all the best songs. I'm afraid that was my favourite part. It reminded me of Mamma Mia!, to have the show end with an encore like that – but is there something wrong with a simple feel-good moment every now and then? Without the cheerful ending, I'm afraid this would've left the audience in tears... There certainly was some darkness under the happy surface.

However, I must say that the issues the musical deals with felt a bit distant to me. The piece's clearly a product of its own time. So, maybe it should be thought of as a period piece instead of thinking about what, if anything, it tells about modern society. Maybe it's about hippies and that's about it. I mean, I enjoy Les Mis and Kristina från Duvemåla, even though I've never experienced poverty and famine. 

But still, with no complicated story, with all the hit songs, with so many references to 1960's (American) history... As mentioned, I feel this show is, first and foremost, a nostalgic musical for older folks. It doesn't necessarily stop the rest of us from enjoying it, I just think it should be noted. I gather Hair was a huge thing in the late 60s and early 70s. A part of the audience first saw it when they were young and the issues were relevant. I bet Hair will never mean the same to me as it does to them. For me, it's not about my past, it's about history.

But, like I keep repeating, I still enjoyed Hair. That's probably because the young cast is not affected by any 60s nostalgia either. There's an explosion of energy onstage. Once again, I have difficulty naming any weak links in the cast. Every performance seemed strong to me. I know I've said this about every show I've seen this fall, but I'm serious. (Hopefully there's some odd miscast in something I see soon. It would make my review look realistic for once.)

I loved most of the songs, I loved the performances. I was especially blown away by Filip Ohls's (Woof) rendition of Frank Mills. I believe the song is not usually given to this character, but who cares; the way he sung it, I think it's maybe the best musical song about unrequited love I've ever heard. Forget On My Own! Linus Fagerström's (Berger) version of Donna, then, has been playing in my head ever since the open rehearsal two weeks ago.

The visuals, by Ellen Cairns, were a slightly mixed bag. I liked the costumes and some of the sets, but I found for example the giant puppets pretty tacky, not to my tastes at all. Palle Palmé's lights, however, were beautiful all the way.

Finally, two thumbs up for the Finnish subtitles.

ÅST's Les Mis had the Finnish translation as subtitles. Translated librettos are of course meant to be sung and therefore aren't exact translations of the original lyrics. So, the Finnish text often had nothing to do with the sung Swedish. But now, the subtitles matched the Swedish lyrics pretty perfectly. Weirdly, the programme claims they're based on the Finnish libretto, but I think they fit way too well for that be true. In any case, this is the way subtitles should be. Understanding the Swedish lyrics partially, I could check out the parts I didn't get and see the exact Finnish equivalent instead of having to think that huh, how does that match the previous sentence... Good!

All in all, I'd recommend seeing this show, even if it doesn't hold any nostalgic value to you. You'll get two hours filled with great songs and very energetic performances. That made at least me leave the theatre feeling twice as cheerful as I was when entering.

Photos by Robert Seger.
See a sneak peek of the show.
The day I finally manage to write a whole musical review without referring to Les Misérables once, I shall reward myself by buying some Hair tickets. If the show is still playing on that extraordinary day, that is.


  1. Thanks for the review! I've never seen Hair and my attitude towards it is very similar than you had/have. A bit like Rent and me, too. Important themes but I can't relate to them at all. Having spent a longer time in Hungary where Hair is apparently some huge cult piece, I've been suspecting I should at least watch the movie. Maybe a longer trip to Turku once J&H premieres there could be possible...

    1. No problem! Yeah, I recommend checking Hair out. Who knows, maybe you'll be positively surprised too?