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Little Mermaid features big cast, loads of fun


Music, happier ending improve Andersens tale

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Ariel (Emily Upton) sings to Sebastian and Flounder (David Van Dyke and Sara Johnson) of her desire to be part of the human world.When Walt Disney released “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, Jeanna Van Dyke hated how the animated film changed the ending of the original fairytale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.

Both versions tell of a beautiful young mermaid who lives in a magical kingdom under the sea and longs to marry a handsome Prince from the world above, but Andersen's mermaid never gets the prince and ends her mortal life tragically because of that failure. Apparently, Andersen’s stories reflected his own unhappy love life.

Twenty-three years later, when she watched the movie again to prepare for directing “The Little Mermaid Jr.” this month at Theatre in the Grove, Van Dyke had a different reaction: “How unfair for (Andersen) to have a fairytale where you can't live happily ever after just because (a romance) didn't work out for you.”

What’s more, in the film, “the music is fantastic,” Van Dyke said. Choreographed by Ashli Zijdemans and directed (musically) by Seung-Jin Bae, TITG’s “junior” version includes the songs “Part of Your World,” “She's In Love,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea,” which features more than 50 children dancing at once.

Every year, Theater in the Grove chooses a literary-based, children's play or musical as part of its school-production series. The daytime school performances may be the only chance some children ever have to see live theater, Van Dyke said.

Of the 80 children who auditioned, Van Dyke cast 62, ranging from 4- to 18-years-old. The youngest cast members play Merfolk while older kids sing in the Crustacean Band and the Surfer Girls sea chorus. Other cast members make up the crew aboard Prince Eric's ship.

Main characters include Ariel—the Little Mermaid—played by Emily Upton, and her friends Sebastian (David Van Dyke), Flounder (Sara Johnson) and the seagull Scuttle (Emily Cackler), as well as Prince Eric (Avery Cackler) and sea witch Ursula (Tiare' Zijdemans). Ursula's green moray eel minions, Flotsam and Jetsam, are played by young actors who zip around stage in Heelys (shoes with wheels).

“They all know the movie, and they just love doing this,” said Van Dyke, who is now on board with a movie that's become a landmark for youth well into the 21st century.

“I have finally caught up with the kids,” said Van Dyke, “It's a wonderful musical and part of our culture.”

In addition to daytime performances for local students, Disney's “The Little Mermaid Jr.” will be presented at 7 p.m. Fri. and Sat., Jan.18 through Jan. 26, with matinee performances at 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 20 and 27, at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue in Forest Grove. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for Seniors (60 & over) and Youth (17 and under.) To buy tickets, call 503-359-5349 or go to theatreinthegrove.org.