Under the sea, it’s sweeter. It’s better. It’s happening.
And as attractive as this may sound, Ariel wants more. She wants to walk among humans and fall in love.
This was in complete contrast to the red-headed little mermaids who sat in the Reilly Theatre’s lounge area. Emily Mack and Chaislyn King can’t wait to live under the sea.
They look forward to mingling with their underwater friends and wearing their shimmery, sparkling mermaid tails.
Maybe it’s because Mack and King are already humans, so they don’t take the mermaid world under the sea for granted. But their character, the mermaid princess Ariel, is in an opposite situation.
She was born a mermaid and longs to be human. That’s how author Hans Christian Andersen created her in his 1836 fairytale The Little Mermaid. The story has been told through opera, film and television, but perhaps the most popular adaptation is Disney’s 1989 animated film, The Little Mermaid.
And nearly two decades later, Disney Theatricals adapted its film into a Broadway stage musical with book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and new lyrics by Glenn Slater. It opened Jan. 10, 2008, in Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Now it makes its Baton Rouge debut as Playmakers of Baton Rouge celebrates its 30th anniversary by opening Disney’s Little Mermaid Jr. on Friday, Oct. 4, in the Reilly Theatre at LSU.
Notice the “Jr.” tacked on to the back of the title. This is one of Playmakers’ Young Professionals productions, meaning its cast is composed of children, many of them participants in the theater company’s Young Professionals Program.
So, the company chose to stage Music Theatre International’s abbreviated version of the show. Music Theatre International is known for its Junior Series of musicals designed for children’s casts.
“Since this is our 30th season, we thought that it would be appropriate to open it with a Young Professionals production,” Todd Henry said.
Henry was Playmakers’ director of education programs. He moved into the managing director’s position in August, taking the place of Karli Henderson, who now is the marketing director for Swine Palace.
Playmakers and Swine Palace formed a partnership in 2011. Both base their operations in the Reilly Theatre, and Swine Palace teams up with Playmakers to stage summer productions.
“We’re all one big family here,” Henry said. “We all still work together.”
This means the show must go on. And it will.
With two Ariels.
Both Mack and King will be playing the little mermaid in alternating performances.
For instance, King will play Ariel on opening night, and Mack will star in the 11 a.m. show on Saturday. And if you decide you want to stay for the 2 p.m. show that day, you will see King as Ariel.
“They’re both different, and they bring a different approach to Ariel,” Christin Rills said. “If you come to two performances, you’ll see the same show, but the personality of the show will be different.”
Rills is the show’s director. The Little Mermaid Jr. marks her Playmakers main stage directing debut, though she has directed a tour show and workshop for the company.
“Some of the lines have been cut out of the junior version, but all of the songs are still there,” Rills said. “It’s my favorite of the Disney musicals. We had over 100 kids turn out for the auditions.”
That is, 100 kids who had to be pared down into a cast of 32 with a leading Ariel. This proved to be quite a task, because both Mack and King turned out stellar performances at the audition.
“We couldn’t choose between the two, because they were both so different and so good,” Henry said. “So, we decided to go with two.”
Henry’s right. Mack and King are different in so many ways. At 15, Mack brings a more mature and outgoing personality to Ariel. King, meanwhile, is 11, and her more shy, demure approach to Ariel is endearing.
Mack is a student at the Runnels School, and King attends Victory Academy. And really, neither has red hair. Oh, they both walked into the theater with manes of fiery red hair, but they were trying on their costumes for the first time at this particular rehearsal.
They’ll be wearing skirts equipped with mermaid tails that appear to flutter under the sea, which is the Reilly stage’s setting at the moment. And both young actresses can’t wait to step into this underwater world in their new red ’dos.
Now, they’d already tried on their costumes at this point and stepped back into their street clothes. But the red wigs remained. With Ariel’s trademark locks, each has become the Little Mermaid, one of the most popular in Disney’s line-up of princesses.
And make no mistake, Ariel is a princess, youngest daughter of Triton, king of the merfolk who live under the sea. She longs to learn about the human world, but Triton forbids it.
But Ariel visits the water’s surface anyway, where she spots Prince Eric’s ship. A storm tosses him overboard, and Ariel saves his life. She also instantly falls in love and seeks out a way to be with the prince.
Now enters the evil witch Ursula, who also is Triton’s sister. Ursula has tried to take control of the merfolk but has always been defeated by Triton. Now she sees an opportunity for victory through Triton’s youngest daughter.
Ursula keeps a fragile shell filled with souls she’s entrapped along the way, and she makes a deal with Ariel. Ursula will make Ariel a human in exchange of Ariel’s beautiful voice. Ariel will have three days to win a kiss from her true love. If Ariel fails, Ursula will own Ariel’s soul.
Now, it’s not spoiling the story to reveal that Ariel takes the deal. How would Ariel be able to meet up with Eric, otherwise? But it would be a spoiler to devulge what happens after that.
Does Ariel get her kiss? Or does Ursula come out the winner?
Those who know the story of The Little Mermaid — and there are many who grew up watching Disney’s masterpiece — already know the answer. But there might be some prospective audience members, especially younger ones, who may not.
And the best way to learn how this story ends is to attend one of Playmakers’ performances, where you will meet not only one of two Ariels but Maddie Alonzo in the role of Ursula.
Alonzo is 17 and a home school student. And she is quite the anomaly, because her quiet, introverted manner is nothing like the evil witch she plays on stage.
But that’s the best part about being Ursula.
“She’s nothing like me, so I can make her be anything I want,” Alonzo said. “She gets to be mean, and it’s fun. I didn’t realize how fun it would be to play the bad guy until I got this part.”
Alonzo has appeared in other productions at Central Community Theatre and Baton Rouge Little Theater. She’s applied to the theater programs at New York University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and is preparing to audition for both in the spring.
But Ursula is her priority for now. Just as Ariel takes center stage in Mack’s and King’s lives.
All are ready to jump in at the Reilly.
And live under the sea.
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