Making a splash

Marshall Area Stage Company to present ‘The Little Mermaid’

Photo by Cindy Votruba Julie Walker, Allie Lamote and Nick Dunn rehearse a scene from the upcoming Marshall Area Stage Company production of “The Little Mermaid,” which opens Sunday at the Southwest Minnesota State University Fine Arts Theatre.

MARSHALL — Bringing a well-known Disney show to life on stage has taken a lot of preparation for those involved in Marshall Area Stage Company’s summer musical, from learning the songs and choreography, to creating the colorful and elaborate costumes.

MASC is presenting “The Little Mermaid” at 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Monday, 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25, at the Southwest Minnesota State University Fine Arts Theatre. The show is being directed by Paula Nemes.

MASC was looking for a more family-friendly show to do, and it heard the rights to the full version of “The Little Mermaid” were finally going to be available for community theaters. MASC selected the show last year, hoping to promote it and prepare for it well ahead of time, Nemes said.

“Our production of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ enjoyed great success, so we thought this story would be very appealing to the community.”

And families have been involved with the show. Michele Knife Sterner and Oak Kelsey, along with both of their children, Kaziah and Felix, are all cast in the show. Oak plays the pilot, Michele and Kaziah portray maids, along with other characters. Some of Felix’s parts include being a sea creature, sailor and a pond creature.

“We had talked about doing it last year,” Knife Sterner said about the whole family being together in a show. But schedules didn’t work out, she said.

“It’s a fun show,” Kelsey said, and the cast is great.

“We’ve done productions, but never together,” Knife Sterner said.

There are some parts where all four members of their family are on stage together, Knife Sterner said. Kelsey said it’s awesome to have the opportunity to be in the show together.

Knife Sterner said they like to sing together as well and have all been singing songs from the show.

Allie Lamote portrays Ariel. She said it was a role she aimed for.

“I have always wanted to be Ariel,” she said. The first song she ever learned was “Part of Your World” from the show. “This was my goal for my entire life.”

So Lamote prepared for the role in advance, memorizing the entire album so she was ready for auditions.

When she learned she got the part, Lamote said she “cried because I was so happy.”

Getting ready for the show has been going “pretty well,” Lamote said. One of the challenges, she said, comes when Ariel loses her voice and she has to show her emotions through facial expressions without being able to talk. There’s also going over the lines again and again to get the meaning across as how she wants to portray the story, she said.

Amanda Castro portrays Ursula. She said she wasn’t originally going to audition for the show as she was exhausted from directing for MACT Fest, a community theater festival that was in Marshall earlier this year, and wanted to take time to get back into theater.

“Many friends in the local theater community encouraged me to audition for ‘The Little Mermaid,'” she said.

When she was awarded the role of Ursula, Castro said she was floored.

“In my opinion, Ursula is the most iconic villain for the Disney ‘Renaissance’ that began with ‘The Little Mermaid’ film,” she said. “My mom told me that even as a child while I enjoyed the whole movie, it was Ursula that absolutely captured my attention.”

Castro said she also knew that she didn’t want to play Ursula as purely evil.

“Yes, she is not a good character and is straight forward in her intentions, but there is her need to belong,” Castro said. “In the song ‘Daddy’s Little Angel,’ she says how she wanted to be loved but getting attention through questionable deeds is a lot more fun.”

Ultimately the role is a lot of fun, Castro said, Ursula has many great one-liners and quips.

“Also the chance to sing ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ at the end of Act 1 is a blast,” she said. “While this is not my first villainous role, I admit I do enjoy playing the bad guy. Playing the villain allows me as an actress to take more risks with the role and with how animated of a character Ursula is, the possibilities are huge. That being said, I know I’ve played Ursula right if at the end I’m completely spent.

“It takes a lot of energy to make my facial expressions and movements readable from the audience while wearing large costume pieces.”

Rehearsals started in March so the actors could learn the music first before adding blocking and choreography, Nemes said.

“The biggest challenge to rehearsals is that community theater folks are volunteering their time, and they have jobs and school and other volunteer commitments, plus a few were involved in other productions overlapping our rehearsal times,” Nemes said. “Only a few times in all these weeks have we had every single cast member at rehearsal. But that’s the beauty of community theater. Those involved are passionate about it and make things work with limited time and resources.”

Costuming is also a big part of the show. Nemes said SMSU theater professor Sheila Tabaka’s costume construction class created many of the sea creature costumes, and Tabaka made all of Prince Eric’s costumes. Nemes said that SMSU theater professor Mike Lenz opened up the entire theater for the show, not just rehearsal space, but equipment, platforms and tech.

“It was a great collaboration, and we had a lot to work out regarding the ability to move, sit, dance in the costumes, besides having them look fun, where to put the mics, quick changes, not to hot to wear for long periods,” Nemes said.

Karla Black and Nancy French also teamed up to create costumes for the show. One such costume is an all-red ensemble worn by Sebastian, played by Chris Shuckhart.

“We looked for every piece of red we could find,” French said.

Black said the vest Shuckhart wears for Sebastian was worn by Kurtis Parlin in “Les Miserables.”

“In standard theater format, we repurpose,” Black said.

Black had fun creating Castro’s Ursula costume.

“I had a picture in my mind of what squid tentacles” look like, Black said.

French said Ursula’s costume was built from a formal. Black revamped the dress a bit, building sleeves and “adding mystery” to it.

“I just made up the pattern,” Black said. “I built it around Amanda.” Black said she constructed the purple tentacles from shower curtains.

Other costuming ideas include using umbrellas as jellyfish, fashioning a ball cap into the top part of the gulls’ costumes and then finding blue jackets from the thrift store and sewing on white garbage bags for the feathers. Other items like doilies, Hula Hoops and shells have been incorporated into costumes.

“She (Karla) created a lot,” French said.

Black said she has a bag for every character in which she collected items that would fit that particular person. For example, with King Triton, she found materials in green and gold — majestic colors, she said.

“We want him majestic,” Black said.