Becoming Part of That World
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 25 nov 2017
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is now a recognized classic, and the theatrical version helped start a Disney revolution on stage. The Des Moines Playhouse brings the underwater musical to children of all ages for the month of December. For two stars of this production, this is their first opportunity to be on the Playhouse mainstage, guided by the sure hand of veteran director Maxwell Schaeffer. For the young performers, it’s their chance to be, as the lyric goes, “part of that world.”
And an incredible world it is, telling the undersea “fish tale” of a mermaid who wants to find her true love in “that world” above the ocean waters. Schaeffer realizes that Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a well-known and cherished story, but this is a stage presentation and not the original movie. Bringing animated characters to life involves lots of new opportunities.
Denizens of the Deep
“We want our overall production to be true to the Disney ‘spirit’ of the movie,” says Schaeffer, “but, of course, we will present it with our own artistic choices. Nick Amundson’s set design is truly unique and expressionistic. We had nearly 100 actors audition, so we were able to load the ensemble with trained voices, and I can say they bring chills at times.”
Youth is a key with this production. And while nothing was pre-cast for The Little Mermaid, sometimes the choices presented lead you in a definite direction. Schaeffer explains the flood of talent he was greeted with when starting the process.
“Ariel is a fiery, strong-minded teenager. So, when you have a 17 year old show up for auditions, and she has the acting and vocal chops to handle the role, you LEAP! It’s a no-brainer for a director. Our Ariel, Savannah Trotter, will win the hearts of Little Mermaid fans with her unique, true-to-life portrayal. (Keep your eyes on Savannah - she is a rising musical theatre star!)”
“I first saw Savanah perform for Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre’s production of School of Rock where it was clear she had the musical theatre gift. So, I was delighted when she showed up for auditions. We had several strong actresses who were called back for Ariel, and any of them could easily have been cast alongside a more mature Prince Eric, but we had a young college actor, Johnny Kroll, audition and so we felt we had a good match for Savannah.”
“This is my first time I’ve ever auditioned for a show at the Playhouse,” says an excited Savannah, “and I have absolutely loved every moment of it. The production team is incredible and I have really enjoyed working with [director] Max Schaeffer, [choreographer] Megan Helmers, and [music director] Brenton Brown. And our stage managers, Eric and Jason, are some of the most caring and invested stage managers I’ve ever encountered. Plus this amazing cast has been a blast to work with and I can’t wait to perform with them all.”
“There are lots of big numbers like ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’ that are just fun to watch no matter how old you are. Plus there are many numbers that are new to the musical production, like ‘Positoovity’ which is the big seagull tap number, and ‘One Step Closer’, the big dance number with Ariel and Eric. So anyone who feels like they are already familiar with the movie will still have new and different things to see.”
Watching over Ariel (or, at least, trying to) is the character of Sebastian, and actor Blake Clyde. Schaeffer feels he found another undersea treasure in the newcomer to the Des Moines theatre scene. “Our Sebastian, Blake Clyde, embodies the loveable crab in a way that will make you believe he was destined to play the role. Blake is no stranger to the stage and is truly a gifted performer.” Like Savannah, Blake is entering “unchartered waters” by performing in his first DM Playhouse show.
“Being a newbie to the Playhouse had me a little nervous at first, but I found out pretty quickly that it was for no reason whatsoever. Everyone has been nothing but kind and supportive. Maxwell has a wonderful vision for where he wants the show to go, and the musical direction by Brenton Brown, choreography by Megan Helmers, and costuming by Angela Lampe are falling into place beautifully.”
Fish Tails and Shiny Scales
Special note should be made here of Angela Lampe’s amazing wardrobe work. While others could have made do with items at hand, or even gone the route of renting pre-made costumes, that simply wouldn’t do for The Little Mermaid under Angela’s watch. A fixture at the Playhouse for many years, her creations really get to shine in this show.
Director Schaeffer discussed Lampe’s work, and what significant efforts were necessary to achieve her vision. “Angie could have easily rented one of many rental costumes available for Mermaid,” he commented, “however, she chose to create each costume from scratch... a super-hero feat!”
“Our choreographer Megan Helmers wanted to cast ‘movers’ as well as singers, so Angie had the challenge of designing costumes for the Mersisters and Sea Creatures that would allow them to dance freely. And Angie is a master of color and fabric, so the undersea world will be filled with Angie’s original, artistic, eye-popping designs.”
“Watch for a super-stylish Sebastian - and Ursula’s costume will be complete with lengthy, animated tentacles! I leave the rest for your surprise.”
Blake can’t say enough about his own encounters with Angela’s work, and discovering the look of his Sebastian. “When I first tried my costume on, I couldn’t do anything but smile; it truly is a work of art. I felt like Sebastian. Angela Lampe has a genius eye for how color and texture work together and I think that’s pivotal for this show that has so many sea creatures and underwater elements. She’s been spending so much time bringing these characters to life and I can’t wait for everyone to see the breathtaking work she’s done taking us all ‘under the sea.’”
Sharing the Sea
Many grew up with the animated musical of The Little Mermaid as part of their own world, and Savannah realizes she’s playing a character that many identify with. “I think that everyone can relate to Ariel in some way or another,” says Savannah. “Wanting more out of life, wanting to be somewhere else, wanting to find their ‘prince’. Also, many adults experienced the magic of this story for the first time as a child, and now it is really cool that they will be able to relive that magical experience through the eyes of their own kids.”
Director Maxwell agrees wholeheartedly. “There couldn’t be a better time to put up The Little Mermaid at the Playhouse. Many of the 7 or 8 year old girls who fell in love with the movie in 1989 are now mothers of 7 and 8 year old girls. Many Moms, in 1989, watched and listened to The Little Mermaid with their daughters (over and over on VHS!) and are now Grandmothers to 7 and 8 year old girls. Grandmas, Moms, and Daughters can come to the show together - and share those great memories.”
Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be presented by the Des Moines Playhouse beginning Friday December 1st, with shows on Fridays through Sundays until December 23rd. Tickets are available in person at the Playhouse box office, by phone at 515-277-6261, or on the Des Moines Playhouse website.
Publicity photographs by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the DM Playhouse. Fishtail photograph courtesy of Angela Lampe.