The Memorial Auditorium stage at Montclair State University is littered with student actors, some standing, and others kneeling with their hands resting against their legs.
Heavy breathing just can’t be avoided. The cast has been rehearsing for hours, fully performing an elaborate song and dance number for the Theatre and Dance department’s spring production of Hair.
“Take this to heart, you are 100% better than when you came in this morning,” says director Gary John LaRosa, a response that musters a weak laugh from the actors on stage.
Rehearsals often go this way for the 30 theater students who are putting on this spring’s production, set to open April 29.
“We technically do every weekday and then either Saturday or Sunday,” says McGregor Dalton, a 19-year-old freshman going for his BFA in Musical Theater. “We can go for eight hours. It is definitely pushing my limits.”
Dalton’s dark hair is growing; falling behind his ears and tickling the sideburns that lead into a beard he can’t stop itching.
He needs his facial hair in order to effectively play George Berger, the young leader of a tribe of hippies. As Hair is set in the 60’s, Dalton’s character represents the youth that tried to avoid the war by burning their Vietnam War draft cards.
“It’s not your feel good musical that there’s a big tap number, and, you know, show-stopping set and everything,” says 23-year-old senior theater major Kaleigh Prange, patting the fake belly she has to wear as tribe member Jeanie. “It’s much more gritty and about real life. It’s based on what was really happening back then, and that’s why there’s so many different things going on.”
Hair is a well-known Broadway musical that originally gained notoriety and fame for it’s power to shock audiences with things never before seen on the Broadway stage. A nude scene, profanity, and the idea of sex and drugs all make the production of Hair what it is.
In fact, despite being a college production, the Department of Theatre and Dance has decided to keep the nude scene intact in the spirit of the show.
“We are doing the nude scene not to be super edgy or anything,” says Dalton, who will be getting fully nude. “It’s supposed to be a celebration of our bodies. Nobody was forced into it, and they’re easing us into it so we can get comfortable.”
Director LaRosa was quick to assure everyone that the department put a lot of thought into why the nude scenes were integral and couldn’t be removed from the show. “There’s two moments of nudity in the show and one is most of the cast is completely naked on stage. The first time we started to rehearse it, we were sort of surprised that people just went for it,” La Rosa said.
The cast members are a little less surprised at the high level of comfort each person has with baring it all on stage. Not every cast member will be taking part in the nude scene, but those who will have participated in various group exercises that have helped to create a safe space within the cast.
“We’ve definitely created a bond within the cast,” Dalton smiled. “We are a tribe.”
Prange agreed, saying, “The show couldn’t happen without every member of the tribe.”
Behind the scenes, the cast and crew are ready to tackle another surprising element that’s recently hit the college production. James Rado, co-writer of the show, and the originator of the role of main character ‘Claude,’ has agreed to see the show live when it opens at MSU.
Nick Zale, a 20-year-old going for his BFA in Musical Theater, will be playing Claude, a young male who’s stuck between his parents’ hopes that he enlists in the war, and his own feelings of rebellion and peace.
“Of course, naturally it’s going to make me a little nervous,” Zale admitted, pushing his glasses up his nose. “But you know what, I think, how many people can say the original Claude saw them do the role? So I think it’s pretty cool in a college production especially.”
Hair will be premiering Wednesday April 29th, in Memorial Auditorium. Tickets will be free for MSU students.
Montclair State | New Jersey