Brisbane having a bad Hair day
September 12, 2010
QUEENSLAND slept in during the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and
woke up late. When the first great rock musical, Hair, opened at Her
Majesty's Theatre in Brisbane in 1973 (above) it was almost four
years after the American show's Australian debut in Sydney.
Its drug references, nudity and anti-establishment tone ensured the
prospect of Brisbane performances enraged the public morality
guardians whether elected or self-appointed in Queensland.
By the time the outrage died down and the authorities conceded the
Swinging Sixties could finally be acknowledged by Queenslanders in
the 1970s, posters for the musical were pasted in Brisbane on council
rubbish bins carrying the slogan "keep your city clean" (right).
Whether the civic fathers understood the irony is debatable.
A Courier-Mail reporter who saw the show in Sydney in 1969 was
gobsmacked: "It's true! Hair, the alleged American tribal-love rock
musical, presents utterly naked men and women front-on to the
audience in clear light so that all is revealed to the startled eye
of the spectator." (Very pointed, that "alleged".)
"I never thought it could happen here. Often enough, producers
promised "the lot' to Sydney but had always ducked ultimate frontal nudity.
"Former Nambour actress Miss Carole Skinner, recently performing in
The True History of Squire Jonathan and his Unfortunate Treasure, did
in truth strip to the buff but the audience never did see anything
more than her plump bottom.
"The Harry M. Miller attraction Hair burst all barriers to nudity
with a zest that left me in middle-aged bewilderment as I
contemplated anatomical detail at point-blank range."
Given Queensland was in a more or less permanent state of similar
middle-aged bewilderment at the social upheavals the rest of the
world was experiencing, it is unsurprising the body politic took a
Brisbane afternoon newspaper the Telegraph reported: "A majority of
State Cabinet is believed to be opposed to Hair being performed in Queensland."
Police scrutiny of the musical was likely under the Vagrancy, Gaming
and Other Offences Act, covering use of obscene language in public.
A Brisbane theatre manager said: "I would not care to risk bringing
Hair to Brisbane in the current atmosphere of censorship."
Producer Harry M. Miller said his Hair would be tried in Brisbane
"over my dead body", considering the wowserish attitude of the
administration of new premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Distinguished Brisbane poet David Rowbotham, who was a newspaper
theatre reviewer, asked Miller to bring the show to the city to let
audiences make up their own minds. "There are already too many people
up here busy telling us the show is bad, good, obscene, moral, a con
The show divided critical opinion. Rowbotham rejoiced in its
barrier-breaking anarchy. The Sunday Mail counterpart Fred Rogers did
not, denouncing the musical as "a depraved and dirty din".
By early 1973, most of the dust had settled, despite a rearguard
action in Queensland from Joh favourite, Mrs Rona Joyner, and her
STOP (Society To Outlaw Pornography).
Hair had a seven-week season at Her Majesty's without hindrance.
About 60,000 people emerged not visibly corrupted.
Rowbotham saw the show three years after his first viewing, conceding
the psychedelic storyline was incoherent "but the incoherence gets a
dazzling sound and colour-plating . . . Hair works uniquely and
outrageously, though no more outrageously, perhaps, than many R-rated
movies these days."
He was referring to such movies as A Clockwork Orange and Portnoy's
Complaint which, on the night of the Brisbane Hair premiere, were
showing at the Oxley and Boondall drive-ins and the Eldorado at Indooroopilly.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical 3.5 out of 5
By COLIN MACLEAN
August 17, 2010
HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL
New City Suburbs, 10081 Jasper Ave.
It is the Age of Aquarius at the New City Suburbs.
A local company under artistic Director Amanda Neufeld is staging the
1967 ground-breaking chestnut Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock
Musical, in the New City Suburbs. There is a large cast of talented
and enthusiastic young people who were born a long time after the
musical changed Broadway forever. Hair brought rock and roll to
Broadway and is the proud grandfather of such productions as Tommy,
Rent and Spring Awakening. The original was a huge hit and its songs,
"Easy to Be Hard", "The Age of Aquarius" and the anthem "Let the Sun
Shine In" were unavoidable on the radio.
With targets ranging from the Virgin Mary to Abraham Lincoln, there
was something in it to annoy everyone which only increased its
popularity. A new production on Broadway last year was almost
universally welcomed by the critics, who found it a return to innocence.
The current Fringe production is a zinger. Neufeld demonstrates that
underneath the nudity and four letter words is indeed a sturdy and
well-constructed Broadway vehicle. The night club atmosphere is dark,
with a low ceiling the set is a tie died sheet but somehow it seems
so right a setting for a group of rebellious kids living on the edge
of poverty in New York. The stage is tiny, making it hard to do real
choreography but with such a large cast that small rectangle is a sea
of writhing limbs and bodies. The stage rising from the dance floor
gives a feeling of intimacy and allows the cast to take the show off
the stage and into the audience. The kids perform as if they are
discovering sex, drugs and rock and roll for the first time.
The simple plot has a cabal of hippies trying to eke out a life in
the New York of the '60s. The leads, Nathaniel Woodward, Matthew
Lindholm and particularly Sarah Horsman (who has an industrial
strength soprano) have big Broadway voices and considerable presence.
The rest of the cast sing well and if there are any problems the
general enthusiasm pushes it along. For those interested in such
things, they carry off the famous full-cast nude scene with
There is also an ace band led by Heida Arnason.
Three and a half stars.