by Jillian Carter
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Children’s theatre is so important. At its best, it makes every child, onstage and behind the scenes, feel seen, heard, and utilized. From watching The Little Mermaid Jr. last night at the Youth Actors’ Academy of Lincoln, I feel confident saying they have achieved that goal. Every student I saw, whether acting, moving sets, or running effects from the booth, seemed happy and satisfied. What more could you ask for?
That said, this is supposed to be a review of the show, not the theatre company! Plus, I’m sure there are some anxious kiddos reading this, waiting to see their names in print…
Entering the theatre, the audience is greeted by a lovingly decorated seascape stage, complete with a gorgeously painted backdrop and colorful coral sculpted from pool noodles. Stage Manager Hannah Segura pulled double (triple?) duty as the set designer/artist as well, and clearly worked hard to pull this off. Remember, the set has to serve as under the sea, a sea cave, a beach, a boat, castle kitchen, and more! Thank goodness the large cast was particularly skilled in the teamwork needed to pull off quick transitions, designed to use minimal set pieces to suggest the changes. Especially impressive was the quick thinking demonstrated by a couple cast members who had trouble setting a boat railing in its place but worked together without panicking to make it work. Of course all this is done in costumes designed by TLM Staff to allow for maximum movement (think bellbottom mertails), and maximum impact (Josiah Kirchner stoically playing King Triton in a muscle suit).
The whole cast was wonderful, but there were some clear highlights. Starting with the obvious, Aubrey Falter (Ariel) has a beautiful voice that made it easy to understand Prince Eric’s obsession with it. I know singing is hard work, but she made “Part of Your World” sound effortless and natural. Kudos to her. Prince Eric, played by Tyler Stover, didn’t fully come alive until Act II, but that’s just how the script works. I especially enjoyed his rendition of “One Step Closer,” which showcased his singing and acting skills, really amping up the charm factor.
Everyone’s favorite crustacean, Sebastian (Rahel Teklu) was a clear crowd favorite. Teklu has a commanding presence onstage, which made me wish for more. I’d love to see this young woman be able to completely unleash her potential in a non-junior performance. She’s definitely one to watch for in the future.
Everyone’s favorite villainess (at least before Maleficent started stealing the spotlight), Ursula, played by the captivating Hailey Truell, was joined by some delightfully eerie actors as Flotsam, Jetsam, and Unfortunate Souls: Leah Blake, Caraline Falter, Addison Carlson, Bailey Adcock, Elliott Harwick, Farrah Bott, Hannah Baker, Johanna Walsh, Kate Harris, and Vanessa Stuefer. Their mastery of the choreography of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” alone will stick with me as a perfectly creepy moment, effective without being over the top. Of course, much of that credit must also go to Choreographer Isabelle Bertrand and Assistant Choreographer Ashlynn Kasik.
Other notable featured actors were Edie Ulrich (Flounder), Audrey Haugen (Scuttle), Jack McCormick (Grimsby), and Mason Farmer (Chef Louie). They all had impeccable comedic timing that can’t be taught. That’s just natural talent. Ulrich as Flounder had the crowd eating out of the palm of her tiny hand during “She’s In Love,” and I think Farmer as Chef Louie may have had the most fun of anyone during his “Les Poissons.” He had me cracking up. The audience knew they were in for a treat every time Haugen’s sea gull head popped up in the “sky,” because she was blessed with a gift for one-liners. McCormick as Prince Eric’s sidekick Grimsby may very well have a future as a reality dating show host after helming “The Contest.” His facial expressions alone could carry him far in the entertainment industry, along with his gentlemanly chemistry with Carlotta, played with genuine warmth by Jordyn Davis.
In a show like this, the chorus members can make or break the production. Thankfully, these kids were committed to making each song and scene the best they could be. One of my very favorite moments was when Stella Eastep had a solo line in “Under the Sea,” letting us know that the “fluke is the Duke of Soul!” She was so invested in that line, it was so darn adorable! The Mersisters (Ella Studley, Maryn Studley, Maya Brown, Riley Minster, Sarah Virgillito, and Sophie Belka) showcased some serious gossipy attitude in “She’s In Love,” while the princesses (Briley Sothers, Johanna Walsh, Lyla McConnell, Molly Silfer, Sofia Vest, and Ty Ericson) were hilarious in “The Contest.” The gulls (Sofia Vest, Stella Eastep, and Taylor Nikodym) could give lessons to some adult actors I know on background acting and energy. They were in character every moment they were onstage with their feathery boas and glasses with beaks attached!
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Anna Nykodym, Conner Timperley, Hailey Baker, Lexi Hansen, Penny Schulz, Rissa Ashmore, and Rosana Chambers. As chefs, seahorses, sea chorus members, and sailors, their voices and commitment to the show made it all the better.
Like many, I am skeptical about sitting through a youth production when I don’t know any of the youths involved. I can assure you, though, that I had a wonderful time at The Little Mermaid Jr., and you would too! Director Christina Docter and Music Director Lindsay Bustamante have pulled off something magical. There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing kids achieving goals and living their dreams right in front of your eyes. k
If you go: There are two remaining performances of The Little Mermaid Jr. at YAAL (1233 Libra Drive), on Sunday, March 1, at 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are available online.
Jillian Carter is a local playwright, actress, and director. She is the managing editor of Appearing Locally and a mother of four.