Ariel lives in a beautiful underwater world ruled by her father, King Triton, and has a fairytale life, but she is not satisfied. The princess longs for a pair of legs so she can live on land and find romance in Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Music Theater Works June 2-26.
The musical by Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Doug Wright (book) varies in performance but is mostly on Wednesdays at 1pm, Thursdays at 7:30pm (except June 2 at 1 p.m.), 8 Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (no 6 p.m. performance on 5 or 26 June).
“Ariel is strong-willed. She’s also stubborn,” said Joselle Reyes, who plays her first Disney princess. “She knows what she wants and she won’t stop until she gets it.”
The mermaid will only be happy “when she can finally be a part of the world she always dreamed she was on land,” Reyes said.
Part of this dream is related to her desire to speak to the handsome Prince Eric (Nathan Karnik). To make this dream come true, Ariel must make a deal with a witch named Ursula, played by Caroline Lyell.
Reyes said that she references Ariel because “I come from a family that originally didn’t want me to leave home to go to college, so I totally understand her feeling so attached to this world who she always knows and she wants to know what else is there.” Like Ariel, Reyes said she was adventurous.
Noting that she’s a person of color, Reyes said, “I think it’s really important for the young generation to be able to see versions of Disney princesses that look like them.”
This isn’t the first time Lyell has played a wicked witch. She previously had the honor of playing the witch in “Into the Woods” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Lyell noted that Ursula has many layers in this rendition of the character.
“She’s a very complicated person,” the actor said. She noted that when she plays someone who is considered evil, she remembers that “they don’t think they’re evil. You must find the reason why they evolved the way they did.” In Ursula’s case, Lyell noted, she is King Triton’s sister. “Her brother has power and she feels offended because she’s a woman and that power is being taken away from her,” the actor said.
Lyell particularly enjoys the show’s score. “I grew up with this music. I used to watch ‘Little Mermaid’ all the time as a kid,” she said. “It brings back a lot of good memories.”
The production is directed by Joshua Castille and Stacey Flaster, who is also the choreographer.
“I wanted to direct this show because I love this story,” Castille said. “I wanted to bring a different angle to this story from a deaf perspective. Talking about love and fear and how we make those decisions every day based on love and fear.”
The directing process between Castille and Flaster began via Zoom, with Castille using a sign language interpreter.
“We discussed what the story would be like and what the vision for the story was,” Castille said. He noted that vision involves digging deeper into the problems of the musical.
Castille added that as a deaf person, he sees relationships through body language. He said Flaster and assistant choreographer Matthew Weidenbener are both wonderful dancers and “both add so much fun.”
Flaster wanted to direct this show because it was her favorite Disney film and her daughter loved The Little Mermaid as a child too.
She also said, “The music is so beautiful. It’s such a beautiful score.” That includes numbers like “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World”.
Flaster also pointed out that as a parent, she relates to King Triton’s desire to protect his daughter.
“There are so many challenges within the script – how to direct it and make it interesting – but I was really up for the challenge,” Flaster said.
One of the challenges is to distinguish the times when the environment is on land from when it is on the water. Lighting effects help the audience distinguish between these two settings. A huge dock represents the ship, the sea and the castle. “Everything on stage is used,” Flaster said. “There are no big set pieces that come every now and then.”
Flaster stated that she and Castille seamlessly blend their talents. “We both do the staging and we both do the conceptualization,” she said.
“I really think this is a special production that people should see,” Flaster concluded. “It still feels like Disney because we don’t take anything away from it, but it also has its own stamp on it. It feels very contemporary.”
“Disney’s The Little Mermaid”
When: 2nd-26th June
From where: Musical theater works at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Tickets: $19.50 to $106; USD 36 for adults and USD 66 for children for the “Under the Tea” party before select matinees
Information: 847-673-6300; northshorecenter.org/musictheaterworks
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.