“This show suits us and our audience,” said producer Douglas Merk. “The reaction has been great. So many people grew up with ‘The Little Mermaid.’ So many people say it’s their favorite movie or that ‘Part of Your World’ is their (favorite) song. There are so many beautiful connections with it. Ultimately the message that sometimes it takes a while to find yourself, to find and embrace your eccentricities, is at the heart of what Muse hopes to be. We hope we’re on the right side of that messaging while helping the students embrace everything that is wonderful about who they are.”
Director Joe Deer, artistic director of Wright State Theatre, also recognizes the value within the show’s message of authentic acceptance, which reflects a common desire between children and their parents.
“Ariel’s father ultimately comes to embrace and support her for who she is and who she wants to be,” said Deer, helming his eighth Muse musical. “Whether it’s a kid who wants to go into the arts or wants to love somebody who has a different religious or racial background, they depend on their parents to love them no matter what they do. That’s a powerful story to tell, a really universal story I want Muse students and parents to hear.”
Life is sweet here
The troupe’s 38th annual student musical will feature 130 students from across the Miami Valley.
Principal cast members are: Maggie Weckesser as Ariel; Hazen Powell as Pilot; Griffin Greear as Prince Eric; Jack Wyant as Grimsby; Noah Mullen as Flounder; Ben Anticoli as Scuttle; Cooper Schairbaum as Windward; Elias Stienecker as Leeward; Ben Locke as King Triton; Mason Melvin as Sebastian; Eli Ramos as Flotsam; Elie Hoover as Jetsam; Isabel Rawlins as Ursula; Gavin Poronsky as Chef Louis; and Lucy Dennis, Caroline Kaibas, Houda Loukssi, Isabella Olivas, Kara Silver, Amaria Wallace as the Mersisters.
Melvin, a junior at Springboro High School, is making his Muse debut. He says being a newcomer was initially intimidating but his fears quickly vanished.
“Everybody here is so nice, so fun, and just enjoys doing this show,” said Melvin. “This is so much more collaborative than I thought it was going to be. It’s very open. It feels like you can talk to anyone about any problems you have. And I’ve made a bunch of new friends.”
Mullen, a fifth-grader at Dayton Christian School, also joins Muse for the first time. He has enjoyed watching his older peers in action.
“I’ve (performed) with other companies but there’s just something about working with people older than me who are setting an example in (their performances) that is really cool,” said Mullen.
“We are all a family inside and outside of the rehearsal studio,” added Weckesser, a junior at Chaminade Julienne High School who has been a part of Muse since first grade. “We all come from different backgrounds and different places. Some of our paths wouldn’t have crossed if we didn’t do Muse. Some of the most important relationships in my life have come from Muse. It’s cool to be on stage with basically all our best friends.”
Muse executive director Ruth Reveal is well aware of the lasting impact Muse has on young people. As a Muse alumna, notably appearing as Miss Dorothy Brown in the 2007 production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” she is proud that the organization provides a safe space for artistic and personal development.
“This production feels especially timely because it’s all about a young person finding her place in the world,” said Reveal. “I think about the many students over the years who have found their ‘place’ in the Muse Machine rehearsal studio. Muse creates a space where students feel fully free and safe to be themselves. The tenant of joyfully creating and learning together pervades throughout all Muse’s programming for students and teachers, and the Muse musical is a perfect opportunity to share that joy with as many people as possible.”
It’s music to me
In addition to composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman’s Academy Award-winning tune “Under the Sea,” the score includes “Kiss the Girl,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Les Poissons” and the aforementioned “Part of Your World.”
New songs by Menken with lyricist Glenn Slater written for the 2008 Broadway production include “If Only,” “Her Voice,” “She’s in Love” and “Positoovity.”
Longtime New Orleans-based Muse choreographer Lula Elzy, particularly filling the doo-wop inspired “She’s in Love” with ‘60s girl group flair, finds the score refreshingly layered, allowing her to create with more imaginative variety.
“If you listen carefully, you’ll find there are tributes to other artists in the score such as Harry Belafonte,” said Elzy. “There are so many generations of music in these songs. We’re also glad to have the Young Ensemble, (the elementary students), featured in ‘Under the Sea.’”
“Lula is a big part of finding the inspiration not only in each song but each moment in each song,” echoed Merk.
In an attempt to make the production uniquely Muse, Merk says the creative team tapped into the score’s flavorful essence.
“There’s a global feel to Muse Machine’s ‘Little Mermaid’ than other versions,” he said. “We’re taking apart ‘Under the Sea’ and finding all of the global influences. ‘Kiss the Girl’ will not feel like ‘Under the Sea’ revisited – it will feel like a different place, a different song.”
“This show will send you home dancing and humming the tunes,” added music director Jeffrey Powell, Stivers School for the Arts piano teacher and Dayton Opera chorus master. “There’s a great cinematic feel to this score.”
Such wonderful things surround you
“The Little Mermaid” takes a few dark turns due to Ursula’s mischief but joy abounds overall. Cast and organizers hope the show’s feel-good, family-friendly appeal will cure any winter doldrums.
“I want people to leave the show and be able to say no matter where they looked on the stage, they saw something wonderful happening, something they could talk to their friends about how amazing the Muse Machine was,” said Greear, a freshman at Oakwood High School.
“Ariel’s story of overcoming barriers and obstacles that stand in her way will resonate with a lot of people of different ages and backgrounds,” added Weckesser. “Hopefully the audience will find comfort in the show and maybe see something in their own lives represented on stage.”
“We want to send the audience out the door in a state of joy,” noted Merk. “Particularly at a point in our human history where there’s a little depletion of joy, we want to infuse some joy back by giving the audience joyful dancing and singing. It’s what the Muse Machine does best and I love that we’re about to do it again.”
HOW TO GO
What: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
When: Jan. 12-15; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
More info: 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org