What do you get when you combine a mermaid, a prince, sailors, a shipwreck, a sea witch and singing and dancing sea creatures? The musical "The Little Mermaid," opening at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at Rex Putnam High School in Oak Grove.
"We've never done a big Disney/children's musical, and this seemed like the perfect fit," said Kelley Marchant, who is directing the production.
"The Little Mermaid" is based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen and the classic animated Disney film of the same name. In this love story, Ariel, King Triton's youngest daughter, wants to pursue Prince Eric into the human world above the ocean.
She bargains with Ursula, the evil sea witch, to trade her tail for legs, but the bargain is not what it seems. Ariel needs the help of her friends, Flounder the fish and Sebastian the crab, to restore order under the sea.
Marchant noted that Rex Putnam's children's theater productions have a big following, so she knows there will be a "huge buy-in to our program in the local community."
Speaking of huge, there are over 75 students from ages 8 to 18 in the show, along with one adult in the cast, two adults in the crew and three adults in the orchestra, along with directors and a choreographer.
"It's quite the undertaking with many different groups involved," Marchant said.
"Singing with a live orchestra adds to the singers' ability to adapt and change. It's a team effort, a give and take between the conductor, the performers and the technical crew," she said.
"The Little Mermaid" is truly a musical in almost every sense of the word, Marchant said.
"This is the most music we've ever had in a show. There are a couple of scenes with some dialogue, but besides that, it's all music," she said.
"That has been a challenge for me as a director. The technical elements have been very challenging also. There are so many costumes, microphones, lights and sets, and we're adding projections with this show."
The most rewarding part of the show has been the way the students have worked to pull the production together, Marchant said.
"It's been obvious from the very first rehearsal that they are invested in making it a great show. They have worked so hard between rehearsals that it has made it really easy for me and my team as directors."
She noted that they have only had six weeks to rehearse, whereas normally it takes a minimum of 10 to 12 weeks to create a musical of this scale.
Marchant said her favorite scene in the musical is "Under the Sea."
Sebastian the crab is played by Zack Stock, (who) "is a joy to work with, and he has so much fun. The song involves 90% of the cast, so it's fun to watch them all up there having a good time singing and dancing," she said.
As for who will enjoy the show, Marchant said it's a production for every age.
"Even very young children are going to be captured by the characters, lights, colors and sound of the show," she said.
"I really hope we fill our audiences with families who want an entertaining story told by students and community members who have worked really hard to do something they love to do."
Ariel, the little mermaid herself, is a typical, headstrong teenager, said sophomore Serena Mason, who plays the role.
"She is imaginative and optimistic. Although she has her dramatic moments, she has an unconditional love for those around her and that classic Disney princess kindness," she said.
"I love the vulnerability Ariel shows at times. She is quirky and adorable, even though she's a princess. She never takes herself too seriously, and I really appreciate that."
Mason's two favorite songs to sing in the production are "The World Above" and "Beyond My Wildest Dreams," which "provide a really nice look into the character that we don't get in the movie."
For Mason, the biggest challenge has been the parts of the show when she is silent.
"For almost all of the second act I don't have a voice. I have had to learn how to portray emotions through my body and face without looking comical or over the top," she said.
The most rewarding thing about the whole process has been seeing everyone's characters come to life, including her own.
"This show is so vibrant, and it has so much whimsy and fun, and it's really been an honor to watch everyone grow and develop their characters," she said.
Another factor is that Mason is a plus-size teen who gets to play the romantic lead.
"This is not something I ever dreamed would happen. In our society, people don't see plus-size women as princesses," she said.
Mason said she is grateful that Marchant "broke down barriers by casting me as Ariel; I remember being a little girl (running) around in my Ariel costume and now it's real."
She added that "The Little Mermaid" is a timeless story that will appeal to everyone.
Being a prince
Senior Alex Mehigan plays Eric, a young man caught up in a suitably royal lifestyle as the Prince who soon will be king. But what Eric really wants is to sail the ocean.
"I love that he doesn't get caught up in his stature as a royal. He is defiant to tradition and unpredictable. He's mysterious; that's what's so fun about him," Mehigan said.
His favorite song to sing is "Her Voice," he said, adding that at first it was challenging vocally.
"Now it's so rewarding to sing it. The melody is beautiful, and the lyrics paint an amazing portrayal of Eric's emotions," he said.
"Musical numbers are meant for moments when music is the only way to convey the weight of emotion, and this number is no exception," Mehigan added.
The most rewarding part of being in the production has been watching the elementary and middle school students, who portray the school of fish, grow into their roles while having so much fun.
'Love and acceptance' abound
Audiences will enjoy their visit to an undersea world, Mehigan said, noting that Sebastian says "life under the sea is better than anything they got up there."
"In today's challenging world that seems to lack love and acceptance, 'The Little Mermaid' is a beautiful story that is filled with those," he said.
Mehigan also noted that this will be his last show at Rex Putnam and he wanted everyone to know he's grateful to Marchant and the theater program.
Mehigan added, "I found my passion on the RPHS stage, and I now want to turn that into a career. I'm so excited for this production."
What: Rex Putnam's Performing Arts Department presents "The Little Mermaid"
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, and 2 p.m. Feb. 22 and 29
Where: The high school's main auditorium, 4950 S.E. Roethe Road, Oak Grove
Tickets: $12 adults, $10 seniors and $8 students
Details: Call 503-353-5870, ext. 38600, for more information. The production is appropriate for all ages, even small children.
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