The optimistic mermaid, the singing crab, the goofy flounder and the ominous octopus: the story and music of Disney’s classic “The Little Mermaid” has made a home for itself on VHS shelves everywhere. The timeless tale, filled with energy, vibrancy and thrill, will take its aquatic adventure from the screen to the stage with a production by SMTD’s Musical Theatre Department this weekend.
The Hans Christian Anderson tale made its way to Broadway in 2008, where the musical firmly followed the same plot as the 1989 Disney version.
As a story solely experienced through words and film before 2008, a keen eye was needed in order to create the adaptation and bring it to life. Director and Choreographer of the show, and SMTD Associate Professor of Musical Theatre Linda Goodrich, described her experience working with children’s animation and how she applied those experiences to the University’s production.
“I worked on several Nickelodeon shows including Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer and employed similar processes in finding human characteristics for animals, use of puppetry and and vocabulary to create different environments,” Goodrich wrote in an email interview. “I feel very at home and delight in this kind of creation.”
Although “Mermaid” is a children’s story being performed at a university, it raises the concepts of maturity and coming of age. Goodrich found that one of the most difficult parts of directing the show was “finding the humanity and conflict in all of the characters while keeping the fun and humor of the animal world.”
Other than the well-know, catchy songs “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl," Goodrich additionally touched on the other major aspects of the musical, presenting more than just an elaborate and innocent children’s adventure.
“There are many very relevant themes in the show that I brought out as the director, but need to deliver them with whimsy and magic. For example, the conflict of a young girl/mermaid, whose mother was killed, whose father is trying to hold on to her, who has found love that is forbidden in her world, wanting to leave home –– while creating the physical world of a swimming mermaid,” she wrote.
Substantiating the idea of connecting adult themes to a children’s show, SMTD junior Sarah Lynn Marion described her perspective on playing the antagonist Ursula, who is one of the older characters in the play.
“She has a different backstory in the stage version,” Marion said. “She has an additional song that gives a little more detail about her family life, explaining a bit more about why she is the way she is … she's not just some big scary octopus … she's broken, troubled, and misunderstood.”
Applying what she previously knew about the villain and what she learned throughout the process of playing the role, Marion discovered that Ursula not only taught her about how she personally perceives herself, but also the connection between the actress and a character with such a dynamic and dramatic persona.
“I really struggled with allowing myself to be as confident, body-positive, and powerful as she is, but the explorative and creative rehearsal process really allowed Ursula to dwell in me. Diving more and more into the many layers of her, I feel like she's given me more confidence, body-positivity, and power on and off the stage,” Marion added.
By dissecting the characters’ personalities and backstories, designing over-the-top costumes and sets and overall interweaving creativity from the stage to the audience, the aspects of “The Little Mermaid” come together to create one overarching lesson: find your voice.
“The wonderful thing about Disney shows is that there are such a range of characters and points of view that every audience member of any age has someone that they can relate to … In this show almost every character is searching for their place in life and how to express themselves,” Goodrich explained. “There is a very literal message in this show of finding and asserting yourself in life: finding your voice and owning who you are.”
SMTD’s closing season performance of “The Little Mermaid” creates a space in which audience members can return to their childhood, the high-sea adventure of love, song and magic or even experience the journey in a new, mature light.