Hugh Sheridan shares his excitement about the musical ‘Hair’

Actor Hugh Sheridan is well known to Australian audiences, most recently he’s starred in the hit TV show Five Bedrooms, and he’s well loved for his work on Packed to the Rafters and House Husbands. 

The triple threat performer has also previously released a music project and hosted the drag queen reality TV series I Will Survive. Now he’s taking on the challenge of starring in Hair, one of the most iconic musicals of the 1970s.   

When we chatted he was deep in an intensive rehearsal process for the show, stepping outside of the theatre to find a good spot for mobile phone reception, so we could chat about hippies, icons and unforgettable songs.

Sheridan said his journey into the Age of Aquarius has been intense.

“It’s crazy, hysterical, it’s mental, and it’s a huge show. Usually for most standard musicals you’d have four to five weeks to put it together but we’re doing it in three weeks, so it’s been like a boot camp.” Sheridan said.

“The show is very wordy, it’s a complicated show, and the music is much harder than I had expected, but it’s brilliant and the cast are unbelievable, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such a talented group of people.”

Sheridan said the cast and crew would be working hard right up until the moment the curtain rises on the first performances at His Majesty’s Theatre. Unusually the show is opening in Perth, a city which is often the last location musicals visit.

“Everyone is the cast is amazing, and we’ve all really banded together.” Sheridan said describing how the intensive rehearsal process sees them taking up several rooms working on multiple elements at the same time.

“We don’t even have a lunch break really. We got to lunch with our books under our arms and we’re singing songs, practicing melodies and learning our lines. Everyone is working so hard to make sure it all comes together.”

The musical is celebrating over 50th years since it was first performed. Written in the late 1960’s and was an off Broadway success. The show was inspired by the counterculture revolution, the hippie movement, and was stage at the height of the Vietnam war. Much was made of a brief nude scene when the show was first premiered.

The Australian production premiered in 1969 and featured John Waters and American singer Sharon Redd. When the show transferred to Melbourne in 1971 Marcia Hines was recruited from Boston to join the show – she never moved back to America.

Sheridan says he’s found it surprising how relevant the themes of the show remain after half a century, and it’s still a controversial offering for musical theatre.

“I think you’ll find that it’s incredibly controversial. I’m hugely shocked and challenged every day. Some of the words we say have been completely extracted from our vocabulary nowadays because they’re race slurs, they’re words that are offensive.

“I think the tragedy, of what we’re doing here, is that it’s fifty years on and it’s probably more relevant today that it was fifty years ago. Part of the reason is that we’re still dealing with the same issues.

Warfare, drug policies, women’s rights and racism are some of the topics that Sheridan highlights that come up in the show.

“There’s even a song in the show about climate change called Air, that was written in 1967, it’s now 2019. I think that the people who put the show on earlier would have had no idea that it would be so relevant fifty years later.”

Sheridan says he’s been blown away by the performances of his fellow cast members including Paulini, Prinnie Stevens and Matthew Manahan who plays the role of Claude. Sheridan said he had been particularly impressed by Manahan’s work in rehearsals and he couldn’t wait to be doing the show in front of a live audience.

The musical asks some challenging questions about the big issues that were occuring in the late 60’s, especially like conscription and the Vietnam war, Sheridan says working on the musical has made him realise how current the fallout from the conflict still is today.

“Young boys are sent off to die, jump out of helicopters, put a gun in their hand when they’ve never even seen one, and just run into the unknown, and then come home in a wooden box. It’s really really cold scary thing to think that happened.” Sheridan said, sharing that his own father had been conscripted, but luckily the war ended before he was sent overseas. “I’ve always known that, but you’re sort of numb to it, because you’re so removed from it.”

The actor said what he loved about the musical because it ask the audience to consider who they are and what they stand for.

Hair looks you in the eyes and says ‘Where do you stand?’ A lot of people probably think it’s a musical about hippies and people get naked -and it is all that – but it’s also so much more. I hope that people go away and it sparks meaningful conversations because it is political and asks people to do more.

“I asks what are you going to do to help the planet, and stop the violence, because we’re really not there. I think that’s pretty cool because we’re a complacent generation these days. We’re pretty numb to things that are going on, and this is saying how numb are willing to be? Are you willing to turn your eye away from what’s going on in the world. This is a cool call to action.”

The show is filled with a bunch of songs that are well known including Aquarius, Let the Sunshine In and I Got No. Sheridan said the singing in the rehearsal room sounds amazing.  

Hair is at His Majesty’s Theatre until 1st September book tickets via Perth Theatre Trust.  

Graeme Watson

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