The New Paltz Middle School Drama Club is staging The Little Mermaid, Jr. this year, an adaptation for young performers of the 1989 Disney movie and 2007 Broadway musical, The Little Mermaid. There will be two evening performances, on Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27 at 7 p.m. and two afternoon matinees on Saturday and Sunday, February 27 and 28 at 2 p.m.
The storyline and catchy soundtrack will be familiar to most audience members. Young mermaid Ariel (based on the heroine of a Hans Christian Andersen tale) is longing to leave her ocean home under the sea to check out the world above. “Flippin’ your fins you don’t get too far,” she sings. Ariel is ready to know what the world outside of her undersea realm is like, but to do so, she has to defy her father, King Triton, and she makes a terrible deal with the evil sea witch Ursula.
When The Little Mermaid was introduced to the public 27 years ago, young girls everywhere (and a few older ones) took to the spirited heroine who offered a new kind of role model in Disney movies, going after what she wants instead of waiting passively to be released from some unbearable situation. Possessing a self-awareness Cinderella and Snow White never had, she knows she already has it pretty good — “Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has everything?” — but she also realizes that it’s just stuff she has, and it’s experience Ariel craves. Headstrong and fearless, she makes plenty of mistakes, and there’s still that fairytale standard of marriage to a prince involved, but in the end, the message is that fortune favors the brave but friends and family are the foundation.
Eighth grader Olivia Benedict portrays the independent mermaid for the New Paltz Middle School (NPMS) production. When asked if she’s anything like Ariel, Benedict laughs, admitting that her father says it’s “the perfect role” for her. Benedict has been acting in shows since she was in a production of Peter Pan at age six, with performances more recently in last year’s NPMS production of The Wizard of Oz and 90 Miles Off Broadway’s Rumpelstiltskin and The Diary of Anne Frank. She plans to continue with theater when she moves up to New Paltz High School this fall.
Seventh grader Queen Irving plays Ariel’s protector, the crab Sebastian. Irving, who played a munchkin in last year’s Oz, says it’s fun to have a bigger role this year and fun just to be participating in the production altogether. Eighth grader Ava Sarubbi portrays Flounder, Ariel’s best friend and sidekick. Sarubbi has been acting in plays since the fourth grade, she says, including shows put on by 90 Miles Off Broadway. She plans to continue in theater at New Paltz High, too.
The rest of the cast includes Michael Messina as Prince Eric, Lilah Fishzang as the seagull Scuttle, Cormac Stutzman as King Triton, Lily Mercogliano as the fearsome Ursula, Josh Clinton and Alex Hill as Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula’s lackey eels and Andrew Geher as Prince Eric’s guardian, Grimsby.
The show features nearly 100 students in its ensemble, including the supporting talents of Anna Adams, Jordan Balin, Sadie Beach, Hannah Bear, Rebecca Bendell, Kristie Benel, Clara Bogart, Connor Bruley, Briana Carlini, Oliver Casey, Emma Clements, Malik Clement, Malcolm Condon, Jamishay Cormann, Ruthie Crosby-Lizarde, Nyah Cunniff, Olivia DePuy, Jude Desmery, Solo Diedhiou, Stephanie Dobosh, Connor and Rory Domitrovits, Jessica Dugatkin, Lexica Eisenhardt, Alex Engle, Ashya Farris, Talia Feinshold, Ethan Feshold, Angelina Forte, Alana Gerber, Alina Gorney, Chloe Gold, Josh Graubard, Gage Guilikson, Kelly Hansen, Jason Harding, Keaton and Merin Hemminger, Olivia Herman, Rebecca Ingrasia, Will Lawrence-Paine, Tessa LaPolt, Alexi Levitz, Noah Levitz, Tess Lobell, Megan Loughran, Kendell Lucchesi, Sophia Luczak, Jasper MacDonald, Kevin Martinez, Kyle Mast, Kylie Mattsen, Jackie and Maggie Melanson, Kevin Metzger, Max Miller, Arianna Moore, Zaky Musso, Sean Nielson, Delia Nocito, Cate Osterweil, Amina Oukili, Jay and Reeti Patel, Callie Paul-LaRonca, Sarah Perl, Jayden Pollard, Quinn Ratynski, Mason Roepe, Nate Rushia, Christina Rust, Calla and Rosie Savelson, Frances Schembri, Harper Serringer, Brandon Sirof, Ella Skye-Franks, Amelia St. John, Nicole Steinback, Riley Stutzman, Sarah Tanner, Ashley Thacker, Paula Trifilo, Francesca Varriano, Keegan Veeder, Christine Vigliotti, Siri Walsh, Kaitlyn Weinerman, Rhys Weires, Emilyn and Kira Wheeler, Paris White, Paige Wilson, Emily and Sami Wong-Pan, Gretchen Wulfmeyer, Hannah Wynters and Lily Zaboraowski.
New Paltz Middle School Spanish teacher Mary Holmes, with a background in theater and experience of more than 20 years producing and directing school theatrical productions, says she chose to present The Little Mermaid, Jr. because it has a lot of parts and a lot of big numbers. It’s also better when the kids are already familiar with the material, she adds, and they have an idea of who the characters are.
All of the students who auditioned for the play are eligible for the ensemble, as long as they commit to the rehearsal schedule. With almost one-third of the school’s students involved in the production in one way or another, the annual play draws more participation across the boundaries of sixth through eighth grade than does any other school activity, says Holmes. “And it’s really nice seeing them work together, seeing the eighth graders interacting with sixth graders. Between the cast and all the stage crew, it’s a real community-building opportunity.”
The cast is so large they were broken up into groups to rehearse their parts in different locations throughout the school under guidance from sixth grade teacher Laura VanEtten, special ed teacher Rebecca Masters and parent Melissa LaPolt.
Tickets to the performances cost $5 and are available prior to each performance at the school auditorium, 196 Main Street.