LIVINGSTON, NJ — After 13 years of hits under Livingston resident Phyllis Meranus’ direction, the Livingston Community Players’ November production of “Hairspray” could make or break the local theater company. When the curtains open at Mt. Pleasant Middle School on Nov. 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22, the Livingston Community Players (LCP) hopes to fill the seats.
Sponsored by the Livingston Town Council, the Livingston Board of Education, the Department of Senior Youth and Leisure Services and the Arts Council of Livingston, LCP is bringing 1960s Baltimore to the Livingston stage. According to Meranus, the community theater’s president, this year’s production is an upbeat, up-tempo, contemporary change of pace directed by Bernard J. Solomon, who has had much experience with this particular musical.
“We have a wonderful director who is a director extraordinaire,” said Meranus. “This cast is extraordinarily talented because this director and [musical director] did not settle. This is probably going to be our best since the Chorus Line, which was spectacular.”
Following a personal request from former mayor Steve Santola, Meranus and Livingston’s Lois Dyer revived LCP in 2003, after being on hiatus for nearly a decade, with a production of “Annie” that packed the house night after night. Now LCP is facing the same difficulties it did just before it went under in the mid-1990s.
With a production timeline spanning over 50 years since it began as a choral program in the 1940s, LCP is one of the oldest community theaters in New Jersey. Due to lack of volunteer leadership and rising costs of the productions, the organization became dormant in the mid-90s until it was reborn in 2003. In 2015, LCP is experiencing similar complications.
“This show could make or break us,” said Meranus. “We’re in survival mode but we want to stay. You are supporting your hometown community theater and not every town is lucky enough to have one. However we need a home.”
A cast of more than 30 members from Livingston and surrounding towns, an 11-piece orchestra and highly experienced directors, producers and music directors rehearse for hours each week no matter what venue they occupy. Without a reliable site to rehearse, the “Hairspray” cast and crew have resorted to commuting between Northland Park community center, the Livingston Senior/Community Center, Monmouth Court, Mt. Pleasant Middle School and any other venue that might allot them the time and space.
Meranus, who was an avid LCP performer from the time she moved to Livingston in 1968 until she revived it as president, said she is determined to keep LCP afloat. She also said, however, that LCP needs help from the community in order to do so. Livingston Vision 20/20 Committee member Alan Karpas, a close friend of LCP, has discussed the committee’s hope to build a children’s theater in Livingston, but it has not yet been approved.
The Players, who recently performed numbers from “Hairspray” for Art at the Oval on Oct. 3, hope to get the community’s support going forward. The cast and crew just announced that they are to perform again at the Livingston Mall on Oct. 25 at 3:30 p.m. so that the community has another opportunity to preview of the upcoming musical.
“I have performed with LCP since the age of 10 and every time it is a fun, professional and rewarding experience,” said cast member and Livingston resident Gaby Margolies. “’Hairspray’ is an especially enjoyable and unassumingly topical story that the entire community would benefit from seeing.”