Fans of Disney’s acclaimed musical “The Little Mermaid” are in for a treat at the end of this month when the curtain opens on CenterStage Clovis’ live adaptation of the classic cartoon.
Much like it’s fellow Disney-musical-turned-stage-production shows like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” both monumental successes on and off Broadway, “The Little Mermaid” sources much of its material and storyline from the original movie, while adding in a few special additional musical numbers written by the same composer, along with a few different twists and turns that didn’t make it into the 90-minute film.
“Anytime you take something that is a cartoon or a movie, especially a cartoon where anything is possible, and you adapt for the stage you do have to make some accommodation along the way because there is only so much you can do on stage and still have it look realistic. For example, on stage you can’t literally make people disappear the way you can on film,” Artistic Director Scott Hancock said.
“You want to find a good balance being true to the story and capturing some of the magic that is part of the cartoon but not mimicking it and not being exactly like the cartoon so maybe bringing in some different types of magical elements,” said actress Lorraine Christiansen, who plays Ariel.
Hancock said it’s all about bringing something new to the audience that they can’t get from just watching the cartoon version.
“[The audience] doesn’t want to just see a live reenactment of a film,” he said. “They want to see something different, especially when it comes to a live performance because there is a spark of electricity and energy with a live performance that you just don’t get with television or movies.”
Kari Mason, who plays evil sea witch Ursula, said her portrayal attempts to bring some humanity to the character that everyone loves to hate.
“I want to bring something different to the character because when you see it, especially when kids see the movie, you see her as the bad guy but no one stops to think, ‘Why she is the bad guy?,’” Mason said. “Well, everything has been taken from her. She’s been dragged through the mud by her dad, her grandfather and her brother. Nowadays, though I’m not a feminist in anyway, it’s really like, ‘Hey, you know what? Just because he’s a boy doesn’t mean he gets to rule.’ So I think that is a part of it I want explore a little bit more. She may be evil and going about it the wrong way, but it was hers to begin with so darn it she wants it back.”
At the same time, Christiansen acknowledges in her performance that everyone’s favorite red-headed princess is not completely innocent when she seeks assistance from her Aunt Ursula.
“Ariel knows she shouldn’t be there, she knows it’s wrong, but she thinks it might get her what she wants so they [Ariel and Ursula] have similar motivations that way,” Christiansen said. “In her heart, she struggles with leaving people behind. She knows they will worry and she will miss them, but she is just so focused on that one goal of becoming a human and making the prince fall in love with her that it becomes her single focus.”
A veteran to the stage, having been in several CenterStage productions as well as numerous shows with other local theatre companies like Roger Rocka’s, Children’s Musical Theaterworks of Fresno, and 2nd Space Theatre, in “The Little Mermaid” Christiansen is challenged with having to rely heavily on physical acting through body and facial expressions, as Ariel does not speak through much the second act.
“It’s fun to do something different,” Christiansen said. “I’m trying really hard to air on the side of being too animated rather than not enough. Our director always says it’s better to do more and he can pull us back if needed so just finding a multitude of expressions so the same one doesn’t get boring for the audience and it is definitely a challenge. You have to listen very well to the lines of the other characters.”
Caleb Harbin, who plays prince Eric, said it’s challenging but fun to work with a non-speaking character.
“It’s a lot of fun getting to work across from Lorraine in the second act when she is kind of a mime,” Harbin said. “It’s fun to interact with that. We bounce ideas off of each other and do different things and discuss our thoughts and views on what the characters are feeling and how they are starting to connect and how their romance is budding and blossoming.”
Unlike Christiansen, Harbin is relatively new to the stage. A recent graduate of Clovis West High School, Harbin began acting his junior year, playing con man Harold Hill in the school’s production of “The Music Man.” Last summer, he landed the supporting role of Perchik in his first CenterStage appearance in “Fiddler on the Roof.” With only a few shows under his belt, Harbin was excited to land the male lead in “The Little Mermaid.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with my first summer after high school so I came and auditioned and I’m having a blast,” Harbin said.
Hancock said that the beauty of CenterStage is the variety of actors cast, some who have been in theatre productions their whole lives acting alongside talented newcomers.
Mason, though one of the oldest cast members in the show, is actually new to this side of the stage. A general manager at Huckleberry’s restaurant by day, she heard about the production from Hancock himself and was encouraged to come audition.
“I came out and lo and behold, I got cast,” Mason said.
Though she may be new, however, Mason is no stranger to the arts, having grown up singing at her church and having worked for Fresno Unified as an arts specialist, writing curriculum-based standards for teachers that meshed music and theatre with language arts. As an arts specialist, she also directed 11 major children’s musical productions.
Mason is just one of many talented locals new to CenterStage this summer. A large cast, Hancock said the ratio of new and returning performers is about 50/50.
As for Hancock, this is his fifth summer and seventh musical with CenterStage and second summer serving as artistic director.
“This is a brand-new show for me so I didn’t really have any frame of reference and had never worked on this show before,” Hancock said of directing “The Little Mermaid.” “It is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies and I love the stage adaptation and the music is really what drew me to this. We anticipated having a large cast this summer so we wanted to do a show that would accommodate that. There are a lot of fun performance opportunities for humans and sea creatures and the ensemble is always having a blast because they get to be both and it has just been a lot of fun.”
Hancock’s favorite part of the show is the performance of a song that doesn’t appear in the Disney movie, called “She’s in Love.”
“It is my favorite song of the show,” he said. “The lyrics and the feel of it make it kind of a throwback to the 60s girl groups and the doo-wop groups and I love that kind of music so it is my favorite part of the whole show.”
Clovis CenterStage’s “The Little Mermaid” debuts Friday, July 27, and runs through Saturday Aug. 4. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday afternoon matinees at 2 p.m. at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. Tickets are $20 for general admission, and $18 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased online at www.centerstageclovis.com/tickets or can be bought at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre box office just prior to each show.