‘The Little Mermaid JR’ at Encore Stage & Studio

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FOUR STARS
Encore Stage and Studio 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, Matthew Heap directs a cast made up entirely of youths. With solid guidance and support, this fun young cast delivers a bevy of fun, enthusiastic performances. Children watching their peers onstage always leads to an inspirational and entertaining evening!

Flounder (Sarah Mack) shares the news that Ariel is finally in love! ' Photo by Larry McClemons.
Flounder (Sarah Mack) shares the news that Ariel is finally in love! ‘ Photo by Larry McClemons.

Set Designer and Technical Director Kristen Jepperson uses a variety of set pieces throughout the show, including an expansive ship, a glittery treasure cove, and clusters of boulders. However, what I found most creative was a line of blue and green tinsel that stretched across the stage, and was raised and lowered to different heights throughout the show to give the illusion of the ocean’s surface. Lighting Designer Gary Hauptman darkens the stage and gives a hint of blood-red light for Ursula’s eerie lair, as well as a pleasing bubbles simulation for under-the-sea scenes. Costume Designer Debra Leonard keeps things bright and playful with colorful tank tops, shimmering tails, and a good amount of accessories made out of seashells. Ursula’s costume is fairly busy and exciting, as each of her eight tentacles is assigned their very own stagehand, who ripple and wave the tentacles alongside her.

There is a royal concert undersea, and Ariel’s Mersisters sing a song called “Daughters of Triton” to introduce their youngest sister, only to discover that she is nowhere to be found! Resting on a surface rock, the discovery of a fork has driven the concert from Ariel’s mind, and instead she sings a funny song called “Human Stuff” with her friend seagull Scuttle (Anna Vargas). Ariel  (Katelyn Sparks) then sings about her desire to live on land in the famous song, “Part of Your World.” This causes tension with her father, King Triton (Perry Kaufman), who does not like or trust humans. Triton’s side man Sebastian (a highly-animated Rebecca Joskow) tries to discourage her yearning with the upbeat song “Under the Sea.” This number is especially fun, as a swarm of sea creatures come onstage and dance in a colorful ensemble choreographed by Sarah Conrad. However, Ariel is unmoved, and when Triton finally loses his temper and destroys Ariel’s treasure trove, she runs (er, “swims”) away in angry tears.

When a storm wrecks his ship, Prince Eric (Gabriel Spratt) finds himself saved by Ariel and comforted by her voice before she retreats to the sea. The two becomes equally determined to find each other again—Prince Eric sets out to find the mysterious girl, and Ariel visits the sea-witch Ursula (a feisty performance by Maddie Ashton) in hopes of striking some kind of bargain. After a great rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” by Ashton, Ursula proposes a deal: Ariel’s voice for legs, and the understanding that if Prince Eric does not kiss her in three days’ time, Ariel’s soul would belong to Ursula! What follows is an adventure, including a great scene where Sebastian is chased around the palace kitchen by Chef Louis (Isabel Fernandez, who sings a hilarious, scene-stealing 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 before it’s too late?

Ariel (Katelyn Sparks) sings "Part of Your World." Photo by Larry McClemons.
Ariel (Katelyn Sparks) sings “Part of Your World.” Photo by Larry McClemons.

The cast is a young one and their talents and voices are still developing and maturing, so expect the occasional soft voice or delayed line delivery. However, the performances are still great, with a lot of bourgeoning  talent. Hugh Vasquez is very funny as Grimsby and had the audience in his pocket, especially when he playfully snuck in a reference to The Hunger Games! Another young star who particularly stood out was Meghan Mack as Atina, a mersister. Mack’s polished vocals and expressive acting is highly impressive. Keep a look out for this girl!

With its iconic music and peppy performances, I’d be hard-pressed to find a child who wouldn’t enjoy a performance of The Little Mermaid Jr. at Encore Stage and Studio!

Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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The Little Mermaid Jr. plays through January 19, 2014 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre– 125 South Old Glebe Road,, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154 or purchase them online.