‘The Little Mermaid JR.’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents The Little Mermaid JR., with music by Alan Menken (adapted and arranged by David Weinstein), lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater, and book by Doug Wright. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story and Disney film, Corey Latta and Michael Page skillfully direct a cast made up entirely of children and teenagers, with musical direction by Karli Eddinger. With proper guidance and encouragement, a stage full of enthusiastic youths delivers great performances. This is children entertaining other children, and the influence is marvelous.

Ariel (Emily Flack) and cast members. Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.
Ariel (Emily Flack) and cast members. Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

A large wooden ship constructed by Stuart Travis, Lee Blount, and Bill Austin sits offstage, complete with an antique wheel as the helm. Different slats are wheeled on and offstage, each painted to show a different setting, like a iridescent cave where Ariel keeps her secret treasures and Ursula’s gloomy underwater lair lined with potion bottles and cauldrons. Lighting Designer Michael Page uses spotlights to focus in on certain characters during songs, and flashes lightening onto the stage in time with Sound Board Operator Rachel Lau’s booming thunder. With these designers working together, the atmosphere is complete. Costume Designer Georgia Harlow uses shimmery fabric for each underwater creature, as well as a variety of colors. Sebastian’s sparkly red suit and matching top hat are nearly blinding, and when an assortment of sea creatures takes the stage for dance numbers, the entire place glitters.

There is a royal concert going on undersea, and several cheerful Mersisters sing a song called “Daughters of Triton,” and then balk when they go to introduce their younger sister Ariel (Emily Flack) and discover that she is a no-show. Resting on a surface rock, the discovery of a fork has driven the concert from Ariel’s mind, and instead she sings a song called “Human Stuff” with her friend seagull Scuttle (Emma Ekman) and discusses possible uses for the fork (or as Scuttle wisely claims, a ‘dinglehopper’) in a particularly cute scene. Ariel loves everything human-related, and sings about her desire to live amongst them in the famous song, “Part of Your World.” This causes tension with her father, King Triton (J.P. Havranek), who does not like or trust humans. Triton’s trusty side man Sebastian (an excellent standout performance by William Havranek) tries to discourage her yearning with the upbeat song “Under the Sea.” This number is especially fun, as a whole host of vibrant sea creatures (turtles, stingrays, fish, you name it) come onstage and dance together in a colorful ensemble choreographed by Michael Page. His efforts are fruitless, however, as he finishes his song and turns to find the space where Ariel stood empty, her attention called elsewhere.

When a storm takes his ship, Prince Eric (David Jarzen) finds himself saved by Ariel, and comforted by her voice as she sings to awaken him. The two becomes equally determined to find each other again—Prince Eric sets out to find the girl that matches the voice he fell in love with, and Ariel visits the sea-witch Ursula (a fantastic McKenzie Sterner, who shows excellent comedic timing) in hopes of striking some kind of bargain that would make her able to interact with him. After a great rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Ursula proposes a deal: Ariel’s voice for legs, and the understanding that if Prince Eric does not kiss her in three days’ time, her soul would be lost forever! What follows is an adventure, including a great scene where Sebastian is chased around the palace kitchen by Chef Louis (Claire Havraneck), who sings a hilarious version of “Les Poissons”) and the lovely “Kiss the Girl,” sung by Sebastian and ensemble. Sacrifices are made, relationships are threatened, and trusts are broken. Will Ariel be able to convince Eric that she’s the one he’s looking for…without her voice?

With a few minor exceptions concerning the plot and an addition of a couple of new songs, The Little Mermaid, JR. is much like the Disney film, right down to the dialogue and gestures. This makes the experience both comforting and exciting. The cast is a young one, and although their talents and voices are still developing and maturing, they deliver great performances, with a lot of obvious, brewing talent. The children in the audience were absolutely thrilled, some even at times trying to stand on their chairs with hopes of better views of the actors.

The cast of 'The Little Mermaid, JR.' Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.
The cast of ‘The Little Mermaid, JR.’ Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

Treat your young guppies to a showing of The Little Mermaid Jr.!  They’ll love it!

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Little Mermaid JR. plays through January 27, 2013 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater— 1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets at the door, or order them online.