Hair producer Katy Lipson: ‘It’s as shocking and out there as it was back then’

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard - Credit: Archant

Producer Katy Lipson tells Zoe Paskett about the 50th anniversary production of Hair: The Musical and its legacy, and following in Sonia Friedman’s footsteps

Producer Katy Lipson

Producer Katy Lipson - Credit: Archant

It’s the morning after the first preview of Hair: The Musical and producer Katy Lipson is tired but buzzing.

“I couldn’t have asked for more really,” she says. “The audience were engaged and moved and quiet, and then suddenly leapt to their feet and got up on stage and were having a party with us by the end, which is quite iconic for Hair. We were absolutely thrilled.”

Visibly animated as she sits in the living room of her King’s Cross house, she is delighted that the transfer from Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester is being well received. She started working on Hair last November with co-producers Olly Rosenblatt and Hope Mill’s William Whelton and Joseph Houston. The production was met with such enthusiasm that she knew it had to come to London.

“I didn’t want to expand to a bigger theatre,” she says. “I wanted it to feel very intimate, so I went around London trying to find quirky venues and think of a way to make the financial model work.”

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The venue she found was The Vaults in Waterloo, which has been transformed into an immersive explosion of 60s psychedelia, with a bar and restaurant run by the company. After having a cocktail, the audience members can even sit on the stage to get right in on the musical action.

“Nothing makes that experience greater than literally being an arm away from the cast members and that’s thrilling that you’re immersed in it,” she says.

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard - Credit: Archant

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50 years ago, when Hair showed for the first time off-Broadway, the production was groundbreaking in its sexual liberation and use of illegal drugs, not to mention nudity, which caused quite a stir.

The original story, written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, follows a Tribe of politically active, long-haired hippie youngsters in New York’s East Village as they rebel against the Vietnam War and a conservative society.

Half a decade later, Lipson feels that it has lost none of that original spark.

“It’s as shocking and out there as it was back then,” she says. “Musical theatre has evolved but Hair still has a very unique form in how it story-tells, in how the music is and how there’s a little bit of script, but it’s pretty much sung through.

“What they talk about in the show and the themes about race and religion and peace and segregation and community still feel topical, it still feels new.”

With the take-a-knee protests in the US over the numerous killings of black men by police officers and its misconstruction into an attack on the flag, these themes really couldn’t feel more relevant.

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard

Hair 2017 at The Vaults. Picture: Claire Bilyard - Credit: Archant

“I think that’s probably why it was more shocking then because it amplified what was going on in the day, whereas now it’s shocking to think, wow we could learn a lot still from this show.”

As the head of Aria Entertainment, Lipson has got a few shows on the go – The Toxic Avenger at the Arts Theatre, The Addams Family on a larger scale UK Tour, Little Women in production for the Hope Mill Theatre – as well as the development from the recent From Page to Stage festival at The Other Palace with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“I’m evolving every day and the more content I find, the more successful a show is that I want to do again and I will always think out of the box because I’ve come from a creative place to become a producer; I write music and I play music.

“I think my real USP or aspiration is to create new content, so I’m commissioning new musicals, optioning books, finding talented young writers and developing their work and you can’t do that without money so to have money to do that you need to have a couple of bigger shows that bring you in a little extra that you invest back into development.”

Lipson’s accomplishment as a producer, which she has only been doing full time for a few years, can be put down to a combination of creativity, ambition and not being “scared of numbers”.

“It’s the producers that thrive on volume and product that are inspiring to me,” she says, referring specifically to Sonia Freedman. “She’s got 12 shows on all the time, she’s lead producer on them all and she thrives on it.”

Laura Johnson, Andy Coxon and Robert Metson. Picture: Claire Bilyard

Laura Johnson, Andy Coxon and Robert Metson. Picture: Claire Bilyard - Credit: Archant

With her passion for musical theatre and business acumen, Lipson seems well on her way to Freedman-style success.

“If you connect with an audience, then they come back, they tell their friends; you can never force that upon anyone. It’s going to happen or it’s not. If your story has heart, I think you have something.”

The 50th anniversary production of Hair: The Musical runs until January 13, 2018 at The Vaults.

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