WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center has come alive with the sounds of Pleasant Valley Productions’ rehearsals of “Hair,” the first musical the amphitheater on Boland Drive will host this weekend. The show opened Aug. 14, and will run every night at 8 p.m. through Aug. 17. The musical is about New York City hippies in the 1960s coming to terms with the Vietnam War draft.
This is the first production the local theater company has put on since it took over management of OSPAC in May. It’s also the PVP’s first show outside a regular theater.
“As long as we’ve been talking about doing outdoor theater, we’ve wanted to do ‘Hair,’” PVP Artistic Director Camille DiLorenzo said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at a dress rehearsal on Aug. 11. “It screams outdoor theater. It’s a show that’s begging to be done outside.”
One reason “Hair” is best served as an outdoor show is because it is set outdoors. Cast members jump off the stage and into the audience to break the fourth wall, and the acoustics are better when there are no walls at all.
“It would be doing this show a disservice to be inside,” PVP producer Laura Naranjo said in an interview with the Chronicle at the dress rehearsal. “This is one when you can use the space around you; you can hear the harmonies across the lake and bouncing off the hills, and it sounds great. We’ve learned how to fill space and deal with a stage that’s exposed to the elements.”
This is the fifth time Director Alan Van Antwerp has been a cast member or part of the production team of “Hair.” None of the previous four productions were staged outside, and he said the feel of the PVP show is different because of the new venue.
“It’s a dream to do it outside,” Van Antwerp said in an interview with the Chronicle at the rehearsal. “It’s a beautiful space to be in. It feels much more nature based and warm and natural.”
The cast loves it too. Stephen Kalogeras, who plays the role of Claude, said he enjoys singing about looking at the moon and actually being able to look up at the sky at the moon. Corey Chichizola, who plays Woof, said the environment of the amphitheater matches the feeling of the show.
“It’s nice to have people be able to sit out there and have a beer if they want to,” Chichizola said in an interview with the Chronicle at the rehearsal. “It feels like you’re inviting your friends to a concert that has a plot.”
The theater, or lack thereof, is not the only reason “Hair” was chosen as OSPAC’s inaugural musical. The 50th anniversary of Woodstock, an event heavily influenced by hippies, is the same weekend as the PVP show, and the themes of the show are still relevant today.
“It’s about the military industrial complex, which still exists today,” Van Antwerp said. “It’s about one character, but we make it really clear that it could be anyone. A lot of these themes of civic engagement are really prevalent today.”
Chichizola and Kalogeras agreed.
“It’s a political show and we’re in a political time now,” Chichizola said. “There’s a catharsis to that.”
Kalogeras highlighted the parallels between the show and real world events.
“It’s timely, it’s cyclical,” he said. “It’s a war people don’t agree with; there are protests. Things are timely, which is exhausting to see we haven’t learned. But it’s the same between the generations. We don’t have the same ideas as our parents, but our parents were the same back then. They didn’t agree with their parents. Things have changed, and it’s interesting to see how we should be well evolved, but we’re not.”
Lindsay Braverman, who plays Sheila in the PVP show and played the same character in another production of “Hair” that Van Antwerp worked on, said returning to the character after five years taught her new things about the part.
“She’s a protester, but she also shows vulnerability,” Braverman said in an interview with the Chronicle at the rehearsal. “She’s this powerful person who also shuts down. It’s such a hippie show that we get to play everything larger than life. It’s a show that resonates with people.”
The show certainly resonated with the cast; Braverman and Van Antwerp aren’t the only ones who have done “Hair” before. Many others in the cast have as well, including choreographer Megan Ferentinos. It has a different feel every time she does it, she said in an interview with the Chronicle at the rehearsal.
“The tribe is different, so it lends itself differently to the show,” Ferentinos said. “You tie those things into what’s happening onstage. We’ll start with a full group number to get everyone in the mood and then go from there.”
The “Hair” cast members are all stage veterans, but not all perform professionally. PVP is a volunteer organization that welcomes people of all experience levels to audition for its shows. Naranjo said this creates the community feel of the company.
“We have people who are teachers, business people, everyone,” she said, adding that shows feature cast members as young as 6 and as old as 80. “It really does represent the community; these are the people who own local restaurants and accountants. Sometimes we get people who never thought they wanted to be on stage and find out that it’s really fun. It’s an open, inviting environment with a nonjudgmental atmosphere to learn. People get hooked after doing one show and then all of a sudden they’ve done 30 shows.”
That’s what happened to Kalogeras, who moved to Jersey City from Queens a year ago. He grew up performing, but hadn’t done it in a while when he met Van Antwerp and Ferentinos and began working with them. “Hair” is his third show with the director and choreographer.
“I was new to New Jersey and I wanted to get back into theater. It’s a nice break from the regular 9-to-5 day,” Kalogeras, who works as an assistant academic advisor at The New School in Manhattan, said. “It’s an automatic making friends thing, too. It’s been great to meet people without really having to seek them out.”
Naranjo said PVP is always looking for new people, and they don’t have to know anything about theater. There are opportunities to be on stage, work on costumes and sets, and be a part of the stage crew.
“We’re all volunteers, and we have a lot of fun,” she said. “You don’t have to know anything. We teach each other and help out and learn. There’s a lot of opportunity to get involved in art and culture and theater. The community loves that and wants more, and we’re here to give that.”
“This is a fun show to perform in,” Naranjo said about what the audience can expect. “There’s a lot of joy in it.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic