“Little Mermaid” provides virtual escape from challenging times


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The high school’s production of “The Little Mermaid” makes excellent use of Zoom through a pre-recorded performance that transports audiences away from the snowy outdoors.

When the Zoom meeting begins, viewers can almost feel a sea breeze rush through the screen. With it, comes the smell of salt and a haunting faraway voice.

“The Little Mermaid,” directed and choreographed by Elena Maimonis, is a classic, high-energy and nostalgic tale of the young princess Ariel (Lilia Burtonpatel) and her quest to leave her underwater kingdom in search of love above the ocean’s surface. To follow her heart, Ariel makes the ultimate sacrifice: she gives her voice to the sea witch Ursula (Alex Murray). In exchange, she gets a pair of legs. What ensues is a whimsical love story full of twists and turns, and perhaps most importantly, beautiful music.

This year, we are experiencing theater virtually, which creates both challenges and opportunities for the cast and crew members. Virtual theater allows for more creative and dynamic ways of storytelling, melding technology and performance together seamlessly. For instance, when Ariel’s new love, Prince Eric (Cam Lezama), falls tragically into the water after a shipwreck, the performance included an animation of Eric’s silhouette plunging into the water, followed by Ariel swimming hurriedly to bring him to shore, which would not have been possible if the musical was not done virtually.

All the sets were done by the cast members, using bed sheets, paper and fairy lights to create backdrops in their own homes. Ursula’s underwater lair had a particularly beautiful setting — with dark black and purple fabric accented with multi-colored lights, giving it an eerie, yet majestic, vibe.

In the performance, characters appear on the screen when it is their turn to say a line, sing or dance for the audience using the “Speaker View” feature on Zoom.

One notable performance was when Scuttle (Helen Ives), the seagull, sings “Human Stuff,” an ode to human objects like forks, which he calls “dinglehoppers.” The song was catchy and campy, everything wonderful about musical theater. Furthermore, Ives brought it to life with her strong and bright voice, her energetic demeanor, and captivating facial expressions — she was a stand-out throughout the show. The choreography was particularly well-rehearsed in this number as well.

In Ursula’s well-lit cave of evil, she is seen with her two sassy helpers, eels Flotsam and Jetsam (Valentia Burlak and Jackson Daley) to perform a highlight of the show, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Murray does an excellent job of portraying Ursula’s magnetic, yet dark presence while rocking a stunning black corset and bright blue eyeshadow. In this song, Ursula convinces Ariel to give her voice in exchange for legs. With the daunting instrumental, Murray’s powerful and beautiful voice pulls Ariel into her trap, with her accomplices Flotsam and Jetsam appearing in the chorus to help her sing and dance her way into Ariel’s mind.

In preparation for Prince Eric’s first dinner with Ariel after her transformation, Chef Louis (Ben Tytell) whips up an elaborate fish soup while Sebastian, Ariel’s crab friend, (Benji Kaufman) watches in horror. This number, called “Les Poissons,” was immensely enjoyable due to Tytell’s hilarious french accent paired with his hyperbolic beheading of the fish. The irony was so beautiful and entertaining to watch. Tytell’s costume was also extremely memorable, sporting a full chef’s outfit with a poofy white hat to top it off.

The musical closes with a “Part of Your World” reprise, which is a duet between Ariel and Prince Eric. At this moment Eric learns that Ariel was the owner of the voice he was in search of all along. He joins her in celebrating her new life among the humans where they can live happily ever after. I found that their voices worked beautifully together, harmonizing to deliver an emotional and hopeful ending to their love story.

This rendition of “The Little Mermaid” is a token of the love for art and music that lives on in despairing times. Students involved in the musical overcame the conditions of the new online-school model and created an “in-person” experience. “The Little Mermaid” provided the perfect watch in order for an escape into a time where things were simpler. Who knows? You might like it better down under the sea.