The musical celebrates African-American traumas and triumphs when a family, the Youngers, receives a $10,000 life insurance check and attempts to overcome racial discrimination and poverty.
Inspiration and celebration In a time of many negative influences on today's youth, Paula Ohaus, the play's director, hopes to reinstate positive values not always recognized by today's popular culture.
"I feel the hip-hop movement began as a kind of revolutionary art form and has become mass produced in a very negative way," Ohaus said last week, "glorifying violence and gangs, and a lifestyle that's so destructive. I wanted to celebrate the great wealth of material that African Americans have given America."
Ohaus added, "I wanted to celebrate the family, the importance of the family structure, and the power of a family that's united."
In addition to giving students an eclectic cultural background, Ohaus cites Hurricane Katrina as a major influence in her decision to put on 'Raisin.' Infused with jazz and blues, the play's musical score affirms the great influence the African-American music of the bayou has had on today's culture.
Ohaus also incorporated the artistic expression of Romare Bearden into her set design. Bearden was an African-American artist and art historian most known for his collages in the 1960s. Bearden's influence is most apparent in the patchwork that adorns the backdrop for the play.
The play has inspired a new interest in African and African-American culture in the student body. In February, Ohaus took a group of 40 students from both Hoboken High and Demarest middle schools to the Newark Museum to view an exhibit of Yoruba ceremonial gowns. The Yoruba primarily inhabit the West African nations of Nigeria and Benin, and enjoy a culture that stretches back to 800 A.D.
The student cast Junior Rosemarie Alicia, who has been performing in theater productions since sixth grade, plays Ruth Younger, a woman who struggles against poverty and domestic troubles to insure the well-being of the family. Rosemarie describes her role as very challenging but rewarding.
"I try and make believe I am Ruth; I identify with her struggling," she said.
Fellow junior Christian Castro, who has been involved in eight productions with the drama program, plays the role of Walter Younger, the protagonist. Castro believes that for him, "The biggest challenge is being African-American."
The young actor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, used Hansberry's original play to understand how difficult a struggle his character faced in dealing with racial discrimination and personal loss.
"I can definitely relate to some of the things he's feeling, having something you want and then having it taken away," Castro said.
Sophomore Diandra Soto, whose enthusiasm radiates from the stage, plays the matriarchal Lena Younger, affectionately referred to as "Mama." Diandra describes her character as a "strong and dignified woman who is trying to give her family the morals she was brought up with."
She added, "Everything I say comes from inside. I put myself in her," she said.
The musical is set in Chicago during the 1950s. Following the death of Mr. Younger, the family is set to receive a $10,000 check from his life insurance policy. This check soon becomes the answer to conflicting aspirations, as each family member believes that their own dreams are about to come true.
Beyond the curtain The Hoboken High School Theater Program was revived in 1997 by Ohaus and former principal Frank Spano, with the help of School Board President David Anthony.
During the program's nine years, sold-out audiences have enjoyed productions of The Wiz, Fiddler on the Roof, Once on this Island, Dreamgirls, To Kill a Mocking Bird, On With the Show, Ragtime, Oliver, and Narnia.
The program has been recognized for its achievements in acting, directing, choreography, and set design by The Paper Mill Playhouse. It has earned 26 nominations and won seven awards, from Best Actor/Actress to Best Director and Best Overall Musical in New Jersey.
Since the fall of 1999, Hoboken High School has been part of the "Adopt a School Program" sponsored by the Paper Mill Playhouse's Educational Department. The drama program also benefits from the assistance of alumni from Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, New York University's Tisch School of Performing Arts, and Hoboken's own Stevens Institute of Technology.
For future productions at Hoboken High, Ohaus has expressed interest in socially relevant works such as Athol Fugard's play, Master Harold and the Boys as well as the musicals AIDA, Rent, and Into the Woods.
Raisin, the Musical also features musical direction by Peter Ising, choreography by Jared Ramos, lighting design by Matt Flick, and set design by Jen Price. Peformances will be held at Hoboken High School at Ninth and Clinton streets on Friday April 7 at 8 p.m., Saturday April 8 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday April 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors.
For ticket information, (201) 356-3731 or visit www.hoboken.k12.nj.us.