Theatre - Dinsey Mermaid in Norfolk by the Hurrah Players




Hurrah for a Disney Mermaid

By Montague Gammon III

Hurrah Players will give Norfolk (where mermaids are already much beloved) and all of Hampton Roads the word’s first look at a pre-release theatrical version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for one weekend only (March 18-20) at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center.

The local troupe’s appearances at Disney conferences and corporate events across the country have earned corporate Disney’s high opinion, plus the professional and personal regard of Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical Group.

In turn, Hugh Copeland’s family theatre company has now earned the opportunity and the challenges of helping to turn a movie and high budget Broadway show into something that will fit regional theater spaces and budgets. (The Hurrah preview is officially titled The Little Mermaid, Jr.)

Those challenges include, says Director Copeland, figuring out how to realize a stage direction that states only that the mermaid heroine Ariel “magically becomes a human,” but gives not one word more about how this transformation from mermaid to human takes place.

Copeland says his reaction was, “OK! Let me figure this one out!”

Of course, the high dollar Broadway complexities of multiple flying scene pieces and human/mermaid-doubled performers are way out of reach, financially and technically, for Hurrah and similar companies.

They also face the task of simulating, or convincingly suggesting, Ariel’s travel between the underwater scenes and the scenes on land.

In essence, Copeland and the Hurrah Players are eager guinea pigs for Disney, with a much more active involvement than any real experimental subject.

“Pages and pages” of questions, Copeland says, along the lines of “How can [Disney] improve this?”  and “How did this work for [Hurrah]?” accompanied the scripts.

A week before opening night, Copeland spoke confidently of his approach to the scene shifts and magical transformation. Hurrah is using multiple fog machines and strobe lights—live theatre’s literal version of the oft-mentioned, figurative “smoke and mirrors”—as well as scenery that is raised out of sight and lowered onto the stage from overhead.

He notes another more mundane but very real challenge—costuming. He’s not speaking of what’s involved in dressing Hurrah stalwarts Schuyler Midgett as Ariel or Sharon Cook as Ursula, but rather of the work and expense involved in creating more than 20 seagull costumes—“sewing on every feather”—and the costumes for a dance of chefs in Ariel’s palace.

The Little Mermaid calls for bunches of those big dance numbers, but then stage-filling dances are an area of theatricality in which Copeland, “Mermaid” choreographer Lisa Wallace, and Hurrah in general have long excelled with lively, eye-catching, and infectiously energetic results.

Copeland makes a special point of praising first-time Musical Director Justin Young, who has been performing with Hurrah since he was a child of 9 years old, something like two decades ago.

Hurrah also offers a special pre-show treat of Tea with Ariel, before the 3 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets for that event, which features tea, light snacks and the chance to have one’s photo taken with Ariel, are available in addition to show tickets. Reservations are required for the tea, and recommended for all performances.

The Little Mermaid, Jr. runs from March 18 to 20, performed by the Hurrah Players at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center in Norfolk. Call 757-627-5437 or visit www.hurrahplayers.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

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