LIVINGSTON, NJ — West Orange resident LauraMarie Rondinella is starring as Tracey Turnblad in the Nov. 14 (7:30 p.m.); Nov. 15 (2 p.m.); Nov.20 (7:30 p.m.); Nov. 21 (7:30 p.m.); and Nov. 22 (2 p.m.) Livingston Community Players’ version of “Hairspray,” which is taking place at Mt. Pleasant Middle School, 11 Broadlawn Drive in Livingston. While she has performed in a number of tours and regional shows and won the 2009 NJAct Perry Award Nomination as “Gertrude” in Seussical the Musical and was the 2010 NJAct Perry Award Winner for “Stepsister Grace” in Cinderella—none have come with the pressure of being the show to “make or break” the local theater company, like this one.
“This show could make or break us,” said Livingston resident Phyllis Meranus, the community theater’s president, who has 13 years of LCP hits under her belt. “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.”
When the curtains open on the 14th, LCP hopes to fill the seats. Tickets, which can be purchased HERE, by calling 973-743-0976 or at the door, are: Students/Seniors $20 or Adults $25.
And, LCP has some friends in high places in their corner. Marc Shaiman, who wrote the music to the original Broadway show and the lyrics along with Scott Wittman, attended the final dress rehearsal of “Hairspray.” He spoke to the cast “encouraging those that wish to pursue a career in theater.” He also “told some lovely theater stories, and then hit the piano with the cast onstage and accompanied them with the opening number, “You Can't Stop the Beat,” according to Meranus.
“It was a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Meranus.
Sponsored by Regal Bank, the Livingston Town Council, the Livingston Board of Education, the Department of Senior Youth and Leisure Services, LCP, a member of the Arts Council of Livingston, is bringing 1960s Baltimore to the Livingston stage. According to Meranus, 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 Livingston mayor Steve Santola, Meranus and Livingston’s Lois Dyer and Perry award winner Music Director Ilene Greenbaum of Livingston 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.
A cast of more than 30 members from Livingston and surrounding towns including West Orange, an 11-piece orchestra and highly-experienced directors, producers and music directors have been rehearsing for hours each week. While the township sponsor LCP, and they were able to do all rehearsals but one at the Northland Community Center, they do not have a permanent home for performances. According to Meranus, “this makes it very difficult, having to use a school that has its own busy schedule.”
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 Cultural Center for all of the Livingston arts for the Livingston Symphony Orchestra, Children's Theatre of Livingston, LCP, Arts Council of Livingston and more.
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 also performed at the Livingston Mall on Oct. 25, offering the community another opportunity to preview 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.”
LauraMarie Rondinella’s other credits include the following: Tour: Surflight-To-Go & Missoula Children’s Theatre. Regional: “Tracy”/Hairspray (2012 Moss Hart Grand Trophy Award Winner), “Wendy-Jo”/Footloose, “Taylor McKessie”/Disney’s High School Musical! (Northern Lights Playhouse, WI). Other Credits: “Cathy”/The Last 5 Years, “Witch”/Into the Woods, “Grizabella”/CATS, “Gertrude”/Seussical the Musical (2009 NJAct Perry Award Nomination) & “Stepsister Grace”/Cinderella (2010 NJAct Perry Award Winner). Laura holds a BA in Theatre Performance.