In mid-November, the Lee Academy Drama and Music Departments presented a strikingly beautiful production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Dingley Auditorium hosted a large cast of talented actors and musicians aided by a skilled crew and two outstanding directors who brought these familiar Disney characters to life and gave the audiences a show to long remember. This is quite an accomplishment, especially when you consider that many of those involved in the musical were also involved in other extra-curricular activities and/or sports and/or jobs, not to mention all that schoolwork!
In the words of Mrs. Candy Parker, LA’s Theatre Arts Director: “After 25 years of directing musicals, 15 at Lee Academy, I can honestly say that each production comes with its own set of challenges, whether it be technical elements such as sets, costumes and lights, intense musical scores, large casts, or broad ranging character types. Disney’s The Little Mermaid had a combination of several of these elements.
“The cast and crew worked particularly hard on the sets, creating an underwater world through the use of blue special effects ‘water ripple’ lights, glow in the dark paints and the liberal use of ‘anything that sparkled’. The Stagecraft classes researched economical tricks for creating an under-the-sea look and feel on a very limited budget. Coral reefs, for instance, were made using about two dozen multicolored pool noodles, cut specifically in reef like shapes. (Black pool noodles were also used to create Ursula the sea witch’s long tentacles.) Holes were then cut in cardboard boxes and the pool noodle ‘coral’ stood up in them. Foam spray insulation, painted moss green, was then applied to the boxes to create the rough floor of the coral reefs. A large wooden crate was reshaped into Ariel’s rock and grotto with a simple (but messy) application of papier mache. Many of the costumes were created in Stagecraft classes, using mostly materials on hand.
“Because The Little Mermaid is such a well-known show, character development is especially important. The audience comes expecting to see all the well-loved characters, including Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian, Ursula, King Triton, and others. The trick for an actor is finding that fine line between staying faithful to the character and adding your own unique twist to personalize it. My job as director is to guide them in this process. Casting is also an important part of a director’s work, knowing which actor will best bring a particular character to life. I was very fortunate to work with an amazing group of young people, dedicated and hard working. Many, such as Lauren Dodge (Ariel), Maggie Banks (Sebastian), Audrey Nicolas (Ursula), and Lynzi Rideout (Flounder), are seasoned seniors who have acted in numerous musicals and dramatic plays to date. All were also involved in last year’s regional and state award-winning one act play, The Unknown Part of the Ocean.
“Chelsie Chandonait, another senior, was an absolute gem as Stage Manager. Her jobs included making sure all sets and props were where they were supposed to be at all times, as well as making sure all actors were on cue and dressed for their scenes. Ariel, for instance, had six costume changes throughout the show and Chelsie had to make sure that all her costumes and accessories were ready to go. Chelsie also managed a backstage crew of eight students, including set grips, props masters and costume coordinators. Lindsey Dodge, Lighting Director, and Sarah Dodge, Sound Effects Coordinator, also contributed greatly to the mood and atmosphere of the undersea world.”
While Mrs. Parker is well-known for her successful productions at Lee Academy, this was the first experience as Music Director for first-year music teacher Ms. Rosalind Goodrich. Mrs. Parker found her “enthusiastic and willing to learn” and was “very pleased with the outcome.” Ms. Goodrich shared that “working on the production of The Little Mermaid was a great adventure. As with any adventure, there are ups and there are downs but the students made the adventure worth every moment. This was my first experience directing the music for a musical. The actors and actresses were great fun to work with throughout the process of learning the music. One challenge I encountered was teaching the students all the music in two weeks. There was so much music to learn and master and such a short period of time to work with. I am proud of how hard all the students worked knowing we only had a short period of time to master all the music for the performances. Working with this group of students was a great pleasure from start to finish. It was a pleasure to work alongside Mrs. Parker to put on such a memorable production.” Again, it is amazing what was accomplished in such a short and busy period of time.
This was Chau Tue Minh Nguyen’s first production at Lee Academy and in her words, “what I like about this is we all became family during and even after the production. There are times when we got frustrated at each other but since we are family, we all forgave and forgot, and helped each other to make a more perfect play and experience. Each of us is a talented actor/actress with a drama passion running in us, each of us is a star, is a highlight of the play. And the funny thing is, even when the play ended, sometimes we are still called by our characters’ names, we are still reminded of the fun incidents that happened.”
Lanay Scott played Aquata in her first Lee Academy production. In her words, “I absolutely loved being apart of the musical, I got to meet and spend a lot of my time with truly amazing people. The cast, crew and musicians really worked hard together on everything, and I truly feel like we are all a giant family.” In spite of some long and tiring rehearsals, some loss of voice, and some headaches and bruises along the way, she says, “I can’t stress enough about how happy I am that I was a part of this, and I know I would have regretted it if I didn’t step out my comfort zone and attempt a musical production. I hope the audience will remember how magical and enchanted the stage was, and how hard everyone worked on it, actors, backstage crew, and stage crafters. It was an amazing, fun, exciting experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat!”
Lauren Dodge has participated in two other musicals at Lee Academy, but says that The Little Mermaid was her favorite. As she puts it, “I loved the large cast, including many rookies who haven’t acted before. It is hard to balance academics and activities, but I find the hard work and challenge very rewarding when I can make it all work. I hope the audience felt as if they became a ‘part of our world’. I am grateful to have been a part of drama in high school, and they are memories I will always have with me.”
This was Lynzi Rideout’s fourth musical at Lee Academy. She did a tremendous job bringing Flounder to life, creating an engaging character that was a joy to watch on the stage. In her words, “it has been one of the most positive experiences I have ever had while being in high school. Everyone – cast, crew, and the directors – have been amazing. I’m very thankful for all of the memories made while being an actress here at Lee Academy.” I think her words best reflect the feelings of many who were part of this production: “Our little auditorium will forever hold my heart!”
Photos taken by Patti LeBlanc prior to a dress rehearsal show the creativity of the production and the camaraderie of the cast and crew.