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Performing Arts

The Department of Musical Theatre presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid

By Kerianne Tupac

Left to right - Halli Toland as Ariel and Trevor Carr as Prince Eric in the Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

The U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Department of Musical Theatre presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and book by Doug Wright. A simple story of a young woman struggling to find her own way in the world, the musical plays April 13 at 7:30PM, April 14 & 15 at 8PM, and April 15 & 16 at 2PM in the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Limited seats remain for all performances. Linda Goodrich (Green Day’s American Idiot and The Music Man) is the director/choreographer with music direction by Cynthia Kortman Westphal. Both are associate professors in the Department of Musical Theatre.

The Little Mermaid is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the same name from 1837. In 1989, Walt Disney Pictures released an animated film based on the fable (with a decidedly happier ending). Widely credited with sparking the renaissance of Disney animation, the film featured music by eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman (who also served as producer and was part of the screen writing team.) Disney Theatrical began adapting the film for the stage in 2007 and brought it to Broadway in 2008. The stage version features a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife). The musical includes all the music from the film including “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Kiss the Girl” along with ten additional songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. Bringing the underwater world to life proved challenging and with reception mixed, the show ran on Broadway for just under two years. The authors continued to play with the material and current productions are based on a 2012 modified version of the original script.

Left to right – Sebastian (Liam Allen) looks on in disbelief at Ariel (Halli Toland) and Prince Eric (Trevor Carr) in the Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

“My first introduction to Little Mermaid was the Broadway production and I left at intermission,” states director/choreographer Goodrich. “I though it was the most garish thing I’d ever seen and it was just horrible. A couple years later I was hired to do the show, rather unwillingly. Then I read the script and went ‘Wow this treatment is really great’ – the music is fantastic and there are some wonderful characters. The Broadway production was so overwhelmed by plastic scenery or tricks trying to emulate swimming (heelies or flying) that you didn’t feel the story or meet the characters. I’ve never had such a different experience with a work. I’m excited to go at it with a minimalistic approach; we’re doing everything with dance and making scenic changes driven by actors. For many of our students, The Little Mermaid is their favorite Disney piece. With Disney becoming such huge part of the musical scene, this is a great opportunity for our students to explore that genre.”

The story follows a curious young mermaid named Ariel who wants to experience life on land. Forbidden contact with humans by her father King Triton, Ariel contents herself by collecting artifacts that have fallen from ships and watching from afar. Spying a royal ship, Ariel rises to the surface in time to save Prince Eric when he falls overboard in a storm. Immediately smitten, she yearns to defy her father to be with Eric. Enter her Aunt Ursula, the sea witch who is willing to help for her own nefarious means. In exchange for Ariel’s voice, Ursula will grant Ariel legs for 72-hours to earn true love’s kiss. Meanwhile, Eric is searching for the girl with the beautiful voice who saved him. Accompanied by Triton’s right hand man, the lobster Sebastian, Ariel sets off to win her man. As the two youngsters get to know each other, will their love be able in time to transcend the obstacles set in their path?

According to Goodrich, “There is a little bit of humanity in Ariel: headstrong, independent, insatiably curious, and longing to know the world. Ariel makes decisions that have serious consequences, all of which she faces with bravery and dignity. Her choice to pursue the human world breaks down a fear of difference that is deeply rooted in her undersea culture. By leaving home, Ariel opens the eyes of her fellow sea creatures and human friends, who learn to accept and appreciate one another. Every character is searching to find their voice.”

Left to right – Trevor Carr as Prince Eric and Halli Toland as Ariel in the Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Joining Goodrich on the artistic team are guest designers J Branson (scenic design), George Bacon (costume design), Whitney Mueller (wig & makeup design), and Al Hurschman (sound design). The lighting design is by Janak Jha, a senior BFA Theatre Design & Production candidate whose work was last seen in Peter and the Star Catcher. Sarah Norton, a junior in the Department of Theatre & Drama, designed puppets for the production.

Following the Friday performance of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be Curtain Call, a post-performance discussion moderated by Goodrich. The discussions will also feature members of the cast and artistic staff. Curtain Call for Disney’s The Little Mermaid offers an opportunity for audience members to talk with the artists about the production. The discussion is free and open to all.

Ticket prices for Disney’s The Little Mermaid are $32 and $26 reserved seating with students only $12 with ID. Limited tickets remain for all performances. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 Fletcher Street, is wheelchair accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.

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