Community Players Go Under the Sea with The Little Mermaid

by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder

Ready for some fun in the water?  Community Players’ 2017 summer show will be the Disney version of The Little Mermaid.  This classic children’s tale is the story of a mermaid who, after saving a prince from drowning, longs to be human and makes a diabolical deal that may lead to the destruction of all she loves.

The Little Mermaid began life as an 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.  In Andersen’s version, the mermaid longs for a human soul and ends (mostly) unhappily when the prince marries another, and the mermaid dissolves into sea foam and thence into the atmosphere, where she lives on as a spirit.  Her real immortality is the famous statue in Copenhagen harbor.

One hundred and sixty-two years later, Disney released its animated version (an adaptation Walt had considered as early as the late 1930s).  Here, the mermaid is named Ariel, and, as in Andersen’s tale, she longs for the world of humans and the love of Prince Eric.  What the film has that the tale doesn’t are several terrific songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, arriving at Disney via their Off-Broadway success Little Shop of Horrors.  The quality of the music was recognized with two Academy Awards (Best Score and Best Song) and was an important contributor to the success of the film, critically and at the box office.  Indeed, many observers credit The Little Mermaid with rejuvenating Disney Studios after several moribund years.

In January 2008, The Little Mermaid became the latest of Disney Theatrical’s adaptations from the screen to the stage.  Ashman, having died in 1991, was replaced as lyricist by Glenn Slater, and playwright Doug Wright was brought in to adapt the screenplay into the musical’s book.  One of the highlights of the Broadway production was the underwater effects, especially the Heelys, roller-skate-type shoes that allowed the actors to glide across the stage.  The production closed in August 2009, after 685 performances.  It has since been produced around the country and around the world.

Dayle Hennenfent, in the title role as Ariel, leads our production with a lovely voice and solid stage presence. She is joined by area stage veteran Dave Montague as her father, King Triton. Matthew Henry is a hoot as Triton’s court composer and Ariel’s guardian, the crab Sebastian. Ariel’s six “mersisters” are played with verve and polish by Kayla Smith, Kiera Martin, Lauren Hickle, Simmy Wood, Payton Tongate, and Jessa Hendricker. Also accompanying Ariel are her friend, Flounder (with shared performances by young Thomas Toohill and Rowan Loseke), and R. Carson Grey, who is “positoovely” fun as the tap-dancing seagull, Scuttle.

The main antagonist is Triton’s evil sister, Ursula, played by veteran Jennifer Rusk. Ms Rusk’s performances have always been worth the price of admission and this one is no exception. Her sidekicks are Flotsam and Jetsam, played delightfully devilishly by Mario Silva and Latrisha Green.

Joe Collins, who owns a pleasant baritone voice, plays the handsome Prince Eric. He is joined by Joe McDonald as the prince’s adviser, Grimsby. Alex Knightwright lends his splendid baritone voice and comic timing as Chef Louis. Knightright is also a member of a talented and energetic ensemble. Other members of that ensemble include Jay Williams, Katryce Bridges, Hannah Blumenshine, Abby Naden, Catlin Mallady, Erica O’Neill, Erica Rosenberger, Jacob Matchett, Kierstin Durst, Brayden Cunningham, and Jeb Bender.  Williams and Bridges also serve as dance captains.

Veteran CP choreographer and actress Wendy Baugh steps up as director for this fine production, with assistance from Brett Cottone.  Chris Terven is producer and also has designed and built the set. Rusty Russell returns to CPT for the second time this season as Music Director. Choreographers are Nyk Sutter and Ms. Baugh.  Eli Mundy is sound designer with assistance from  Aaron Wiessing.  Mark Wright is lighting designer. Theresa Kerber is in charge of properties.  Judy Stroh is stage manager, and Sally Baugh is house manager.

Aimee Kerber is in charge of the costume design, and she has recruited “about a dozen” people to work on her costume crew.  Some of the costumes have been rented, but most of them are custom builds.

The pay-what-you-can preview performance is Thursday, July 6 with regular performances July 7-9, 13-16, and 20-23.  As usual, evening performances begin at 7:30 with Sunday matinees at 2:30. Additional performances have been added to this production with Thursday shows on July 13 & July 20 both at 7:30pm and Saturday matinees on July 15 & July 22 at 2:30pm.  With a top-to-bottom talented cast and expert staff, The Little Mermaid promises to be a summer treat for the whole family.


Photos by John Lieder