Ariel wants to find out what it is to be human, but Jenny Ballard believes the 16-year-old mermaid discovers something more powerful along the way.
And it’s not necessarily love, though she finds that with Prince Eric.
“I would call it girl power,” says Ballard, who is directing Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” “It’s about much more than Ariel finding her prince. It’s about Ariel finding where she belongs in this world, and though Prince Eric is a part of that, he’s secondary to it.”
Theatre Baton Rouge will open the musical Friday, June 3, on its Main Stage, which is equipped for cast members to go underwater and above it.
“Oh, we’re going to have flying,” Ballard says. “Scuttle will be flying, and Ariel will be on the wire to make her appear she’s floating underwater.”
But that’s about all Ballard is willing to share about the set until opening night, when audience members join Ariel and her friends “Under the Sea,” which is one of the most popular songs in this Alan Menken musical.
The play delves a little deeper into the story than Disney’s 1989 animated feature. It’s learned the evil Ursula has a family connection to Ariel, and Prince Eric, played by Brandon Guillory, becomes a three-dimensional character with a backstory.
But the girl power theme is most prevalent in Ariel’s journey as she takes control of her destiny.
“I think it’s a great message to all girls,” Ballard says. “It’s strong here.”
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale about a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to become human. Disney removed the darkness from Andersen’s story when creating its film, whose Broadway adaptation premiered in 2008.
Ariel, played by Emily Heck, is the youngest of three daughters of King Triton, who has thwarted a coup d’etat by the powerful sea witch Ursula.
“Her goal is that she wants the whole ocean to herself,” says Dana Lux, who plays Ursula. “She doesn’t necessarily see herself as a witch. She’s got a lot of levels — she can be humorous, she can be diabolical. She’s even a car salesman when Ariel comes into her lair, because she’s got to trick her.”
Triton has banished his sister from the kingdom, and Ursula’s wish to become human is the witch’s chance for revenge against Triton.
Ursula offers to turn Ariel into a human for three days, but there’s a catch — Ariel must win a true love’s kiss in that time or her soul will permanently belong to Ursula.
It might sound easy, but nothing ever is in fairy tales, especially with a headstrong heroine like Ariel.
“I think that Ariel is young and innocent, but is constantly yearning for something more,” Heck says. “She doesn’t feel quite at home with her family, and they don’t understand that she is fascinated all of these human things.”
Jamie Leonard-Brubaker is the music director for Theatre Baton Rouge’s production, and Sonya Landry Blanchard its choreographer of all dances above and under the sea.
Prince Edward and a seagull named Scuttle, played by Thomas Jackson, are the most prominent characters in Ariel’s human world. Underwater, she’s aided by a crab named Sebastian, played by Tony Collins, and a fish named Flounder, played by Reid Saari.
But Eric may be the most intriguing, because the audience will learn more about his character.
“He’s a prince, and he really doesn’t want to be,” Guillory says. “He wants to be something more and something different, and I think that’s what really brings them together in the story. And when they find each other, it’s really a beautiful moment.”
But this also is where the story’s girl power theme is most prominent.
“Ariel falls in love with Prince Eric, and I think that helps her get to where she wants to be,” Heck says. “It’s not the sole reason why she wants to be on land, but it helps her get to her happy ending.”
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Theatre Baton Rouge’s summer musical
WHEN: Friday, June 3; Sunday, June 5, Thursdays through Sundays, June 9-12 and 16-19. Performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Matinee also 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11.
WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge, 7155 Florida Blvd., Baton Rouge
TICKETS/INFO: $20-29 at (225) 924-6496 or theatrebr.org
ALSO: “Breakfast with Ariel,” 11:30 a.m. Sunday, June 12. Seating is limited. $20, must be purchased in advance.
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