Big production for ‘Little Mermaid’
Disney hit years in the making for Waupaca Community Theatre
By James Card
At the Waupaca High School Performing Arts Center, Ariel, the mermaid princess of Atlantica, will glide across the stage as if she is drifting through the waters of an undersea kingdom.
A closer look under her fish-scale dress will reveal she is cruising along on Heelys, the brand name of a shoe with built-in rollers.
“I had to learn how to skate so it looks like I’m swimming,” said Emma Kelley, who is playing Ariel in the Waupaca Community Theatre’s musical “The Little Mermaid.”
“It took a few months to get it down. I was practicing in the school gym before it got to be summer,” Kelley said. “I’ve been telling my kids all year that I’m going to be a mermaid,”
Cora Lederer, who plays the fish character Flounder, also learned to swim-skate for the role.
“The Little Mermaid” will be performed at the Waupaca High School Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 30 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 31. It will also be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 4, 5, and 6, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7.
Director John Kelley said the musical brought back memories of when his three daughters were young girls and they watched the Disney film when it came out in 1989 on VHS tapes. All three of them are involved in the musical.
“Any Disney show is a big show. There are big technical problems of finding a way to make the sets larger than life on stage. The pieces of the sets—look at the grotto—that’s a pretty big piece of material that has to come on and off. The costumes are crazy because you’ve got ‘Under the Sea,’ which is basically Sebastian the crab singing and the stage is full of underwater creatures and ‘Kiss the Girl’ is full of above-water creatures, so trying to find something unique for everybody in the cast so they are all something different is tough to do. It takes a lot of creativity of the costumers and set designers,” said Kelley.
For most productions, usually around 16-18 wireless microphones are used for the main characters. In this musical, most of the cast has sporadic lines throughout the show so they are running 32 body-pack microphones.
“It’s overload. We’ve never done that before,” said Kelley.
The overload was apparent at a recent rehearsal. As the performers recited their lines during a mike check, some worked fine and others had glitches. The rehearsal stopped and stalled a few times to troubleshoot the audio hiccups.
Eventually ,the sound came through and Kelley could get back to directing the actors.
Justin Schilling plays Sebastian and he also played a big role in designing the sets. Many of the props are built from inventiveness and resourcefulness such as King Triton’s throne which was made from a chair from Goodwill that is wrapped in chicken wire and plastered with paper mache.
“All of the pieces are pretty fragile,” Schilling said.
On the wall of the off-right wing, the entire musical is storyboarded scene-by-scene to guide the stagehands to hustle out the numerous set pieces.
In one scene, a mast is lowered from the theatrical rigging system and a sail is unfurled to instantly create a ship at sea.
Cast, covid delays
COVID-19 put the performance on hold for two years. High school students that were originally cast are now college kids.
Around 60 people are involved in the production. Music will be performed with a 14-piece pit orchestra.
Tim Koll, playing the role of King Triton, complained that his wig – a majestic flowing mane topped with a crown – was baking his head during the rehearsal. The arts center is air conditioned but the acrylic wig was enough to make him sweat.
“It’s a great group of people. A great cast. It will be colorful and good for kids and adults alike. I like how it’s all coming together,” Koll said.
The Waupaca Community Theatre is a division of the Waupaca Fine Arts Festival and this is their 24th annual musical production.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children 10 and younger. They can be purchased online at https://our.show/thelittlemermaid or at the door. For more information visit www.fineartsfestival.org and Waupaca Community Theatre on Facebook.