It feels like a tale as old as time, but really, it’s just a millennial.
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” grew up with the VCR generation, wiggled into the hearts of the SnapChat generation and will appear on stage the next two weekends as the Clayton Youth Theater’s summer musical.
CYT director Nikki Dyke said she was the film’s target audience for its 1989 release, but like most Disney classics, “The Little Mermaid” has endured for decades, tapping less into a time than childhood itself.
“I was kind of at the right age in 1989; I was about 8 or 9 years old,” Dyke said. “It was a favorite of mine as a kid. ... There is probably a personal nostalgia that’s part of the reason we’re doing this for the summer musical.”
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Disney adapted its animated movie from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, adding personalities and lobsters and fish. The mermaid princess Ariel, played by Lexi Yauch, is having a bit of an identity crisis after laying her eyes on mariner Prince Eric (Jacob McCain), but her friends Flounder (Jordan Hoey) and Sebastian (Markeese King) try to persuade her that the seaweed is not always greener beyond the sea.
In her fourth CYT production, Yauch calls the turn as mermaid princess and wannabe human a dream role.
“Ariel has been my dream role ever since I was a little kid,” Yauch said. “At 4 years old, I was like, ‘I want to be a Disney princess.’ I’ve been blessed to be part of this production. This is my favorite show and my favorite Broadway production.”
Sabrina Dew is spending her first summer with CYT, and two weeks before curtain, she was the only character starting to wear her costume in an attempt to get used to the extra legs of the octopus witch. Dew said Ursula, who convinces Ariel to trade her voice for human legs, had always been her favorite Disney villain and that playing her helped her see things her way.
“I can kind of relate to her in certain ways; not the evil parts,” Dew said. “She has a deep anger towards certain things, but also a passionate love for others. Being Ursula has helped me see a greater meaning behind Ursula’s character and what she’s going after, what she’s striving for. I kind of side with her more than I do Ariel now.”
Taking a production set partially underwater and putting it on the decidedly dry stage of the Clayton Center is no easy task. With a cast of 30 and five crew members, The “Little Mermaid” tries to take audiences under the sea with a large, flowing piece of blue fabric and swimming choreography. Dyke said a little imagination helps too.
“The technical side of things is a really big part of the show,” Dyke said. “We’re not underwater, obviously, so we’ve had to be very creative to accomplish that. The characters are fish and mermaids; they’re not walking around. We’re incorporating watery movements into the choreography. The cast and crew have done a super job with it. We’re giving enough of an illusion to the audience to use their imagination.”
Dyke said CYT based its summer theater camp on “The Little Mermaid” and had to add classes after the first run filled up. The cast knows the popularity is there, and while popularity is driving ticket sales, it’s also driving expectations.
Markeese King, noting his Zodaic sign is Cancer, the crab, said the role of Sebastian came naturally to him. But he’s aware too that everyone in the audience has his or her own idea of Sebastian.
“With a story like this that you’re retelling, people are coming with expectations, and I think that has really sparked a purpose in all of us,” King said. “They’re coming thinking ‘Ariel’s my favorite,’ ‘Ursula’s my favorite, ‘Sebastian’s my favorite,’ and we have to live up to those expectations, and we’re going to do it.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson
What to go?
What: “The Little Mermaid,” a musical.
When: 7 p.m. July 29, 2 p.m. July 30 and 7 p.m. Aug. 4-6.
Where: The Clayton Center, 111 E. Second St., Clayton.
How much: $12 for adults and $6 for students.
For tickets: call 919-553-1737 or go to claytonyouththeater.com.