With its spring production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid Jr.," the Children's Theatre of Annapolis has found an ideal vehicle to reach its goal of presenting shows highlighting young performers' talents.
This shortened version of the 2008 Broadway stage play, adapted from Disney's 1989 animated blockbuster, makes full use of its 40-player cast, whose ages range from 8 to 14.
The show debuts Friday as part of Children's Theatre's 53rd year.
Veteran director Jerry Vess, who has led seven Annapolis Summer Garden productions, marks his fifth directorial assignment for Children's Theatre with "Mermaid," having also directed "Aladdin," "Wizard of Oz," "The Emperor's New Clothes" and last season's "Alice in Wonderland." He has long been involved in children's productions, also serving as co-founder of the Lost Caravan Children's Theatre.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale, Disney's interpretation of "The Little Mermaid" tells of mermaid Ariel, who is curious about the human world beyond the sea and swims above to discover Prince Eric, whom she rescues after he's tossed overboard in a shipwreck.
Ariel returns to her deep-water home, where her sea-king father, Triton, discourages her from such future adventures. But she wants to return to Prince Eric, who is equally enchanted by her, and so Ariel makes a dubious bargain with the octopus witch Ursula.
Flounder and Scuttle, two of Ariel's friends, join Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula's slippery sidekicks, to add fun to a cast of singing and dancing crustaceans and finned sea creatures.
Last week, cast members were polishing song-and-dance routines at a rehearsal at the troupe's now 4-year-old theater on Bay Head Road in Annapolis.
They delivered spot-on renditions of "Under the Sea" and "Part of your World" — catchy, familiar songs in the tuneful score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman.
Among the challenges of the show, Vess noted, is "how to create the illusion of water. How do we keep Ariel in the water talking to Prince Eric on land? They have to understand this and then physicalize it."
Such challenges seemed well within the director's grasp as he displayed an easy, natural rapport with rehearsing teen and younger actors.
The show's choreographer, Jason Kimmell, has performance credits over a 20-year career that include work under such renowned directors as Hal Prince and Robert Whitehead, on and off Broadway.
Kimmell has returned for his sixth year at Children's Theatre, and again his expertise shows. Even in rehearsal, the chorus moved precisely and fluidly through routines requiring intricate footwork, as well as hand and arm movements simulating sea creatures.
Laura Tayman, who served as music director of "Alice in Wonderland," returns in that role for "Mermaid." From the full, lively sound of the chorus to the excellent soloists heard in rehearsal, the young cast shows a fine interpretation of the Disney score.
Broadneck High student Geneva Croteau, 14, plays the role of Ariel. Projecting a youthful impetuosity in her curiosity about the human world, Geneva shows spunk in her determination to explore beyond her own home and return to the young man she saved. Geneva displays her talent through her acting, heartfelt singing of "The World Above" and "Part of Your World," and also her considerable dance skills.
Home-schooled student Colin Snyder is cast as Prince Eric in his second Children's Theatre show, and is among the many talented teen and younger players striving for excellence.
Playing Ariel's best friend Flounder is Severn River Middle student Katie Garrity, who at age 12 is marking her eighth Children's Theatre show.
As troupe president Catherine Hollerbach said, "Katie has been doing shows since she was 8, but helping since she was about age 5."
Children's Theatre family ties are evident. Garrity's brother, Gus, participated in Children's Theatre through middle school, and her mother, Kathy Garrity, is helping to publicize the show.