The Little Mermaid Jr.
- By gentleguide
- On Thu 24 oct 2019
Thirty years ago, there was a renaissance at the movies. The Walt Disney Corporation released its beloved musical The Little Mermaid, based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale. In addition to jump-starting the Disney animation division, The Little Mermaid brought a whole new generation to the wonder of a certain brand of family-friendly storytelling. The movie also spawned a Broadway adaptation, which has been revamped into a young-people’s version of the tune-filled stage spectacular. In honor of the movie anniversary, Class Act Productions in Altoona is staging The Little Mermaid Jr. starting next Friday, November 1.
Director Melissa Grooters is in charge of this production. She’s been involved with Class Act Productions (CAP-Theatre) for the last five years, doing everything from cleanup and set work through being Stage Manager and Assistant Director on various shows. “I was ready to tackle being a Director. I felt that this production, being one of my favorite Disney movies (I was a teenager when it came out), was a great one to dive into.”
Of course, the many adults who volunteer with CAP-Theatre all remember growing up with the movie, or got to see it when it initially premiered. But that’s not the case with the actual performers singing and dancing in The Little Mermaid Jr. “I had a short discussion with the cast that started with just asking who had seen The Little Mermaid. There were only a couple of cast members that had not seen it. What I found most interesting was one of them said ‘Of course we've seen it - it's a classic.’"
“I found this interesting because to me the classics were Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. For me, The Little Mermaid was the start of that renaissance. The cast members have just simply lived only knowing the renaissance, not living the change the The Little Mermaid meant to Disney fans.”
People and Possibilities
The original Hans Christian Andersen story is more than a bit darker than the Disney adaptation, but that’s not really a concern for this production. This is a celebration of the movie version and the anniversary. “At one of the first rehearsals, I talked with the cast a bit about the Hans Christian Andersen story,” says Grooters. It was a challenge to not be to graphic or morbid - considering the age range of our cast - some under 10 years old. There is a reason that these stories have been "Disneyfied", right? This play is really about the Disney movie, with its own flair, having some different songs than the movie.”
There are always a great many young people who audition for a part in CAP-Theatre shows. They are known for doing large cast musicals, and this production of The Little Mermaid Jr. is no exception. The best part is the constant rotation of performers, as older students move on to other projects and younger ones become a new part of the CAP family.
Grooters notes, “We always say, during auditions, we will cast 24-28 people in our mainstage plays. (28 is our maximum we can do - mostly for space purposes - our stage & backstage are small) We almost always cast that maximum 28. We like to have returning actors that have experience with CAP be mentors for those new to CAP. But we do take the time to talk through the basics like blocking with everyone - new & returning - because we think it is important even if they know it, to hear it again.”
Some things are much easier with animation, as opposed to the stage environment. Drawing a mermaid or crab swimming underwater is relatively simple compared to the hurdle posed by having to portray the same type of thing in a live-action musical. As Director, Grooters has to not only make it relatively easy for her performers, but to also make clear to the audience the changes in the environment during the show.
“My biggest challenge of creating this show is how often the scene changes from underwater to a different location. I decided to make sure that the set pieces themselves, the lighting, and the costumes helped the audience know when we are underwater and when we are not. I did not task the cast to change their movements much unless it made since for their characters or choreography.” Grooters decided against using “Wheelies” skates (as is often done for the underwater characters to simulate the smooth movement of swimming), as the typical stage setup for CAP-Altoona often uses a raked (inclined) stage. But the story and characters still shine through.
The Jr. in Little Mermaid Jr. refers more to the small changes made in the adaptation. All the important plot points are there, but the Jr. version often has easier vocal arrangements for the young performers, as well as a bit of streamlining to shorten the show for younger attention spans. But that doesn’t mean it’s just for kids. All of us who grew up on The Little Mermaid (whether we treat it as a “renaissance” or a “classic”) will find it worthwhile to revisit Ariel and her friends again.
The Little Mermaid Jr. runs three weekends beginning Friday November 1 at the CAP-Theatre building in Altoona. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7pm, and Sunday shows at 2pm (including the final show on Sunday November 17, which is the actual 30th anniversary of the movie release!) Tickets are available through the CAP-Theatre website, and any remaining tickets are available when the house opens half an hour before each performance.