WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange High School (WOHS) cast of “The Little Mermaid” performed its fourth and final show of the Disney classic on Sunday, March 26, selling out for the fourth-consecutive night. The spring musical ended its run with more than 2,500 tickets sold.
The story begins with a young mermaid named Ariel who wants to live in the surface world with the humans—specifically with a handsome prince named Eric—but her prejudice father King Triton does not approve. Ariel makes a deal with the villainous Ursula, who she trades her voice to in exchange for a pair of legs.
Ariel has three days to make Prince Eric kiss her, or else she turns back into a mermaid and belongs to Ursula for the rest of her days. Along the way, the audience is entertained with musical numbers, jokes, character development and more.
WOHS’ version of the musical took on a slightly different tone, adding new songs, jokes and scenes. Rehearsing since January, and with a budget of approximately $10,000, the musical brought in a wide audience of all ages, giving everybody something to appreciate.
“We wanted to produce a show that reached out to the entire community and could inspire younger students to pursue the performing arts when they get to high school,” said director John Hellyer. “’The Little Mermaid’ is a popular Disney title and the name recognition helped with the success of the production.”
After two years of more emotionally mature shows, like “The Wedding Singer” and “Aida,” Hellyer said it was time to “put on a show that could reach a broader audience.”
“It also happened to suit the talents of the students involved and had more students and staff working on it than any musical in WOHS’ recent history,” he said.
Hellyer added that the script of the show is different from the Disney movie and gives Ariel much more control over her choices and destiny.
“In making her responsible for her actions and having Ariel be the person who ultimately stops Ursula is much more empowering,” said Hellyer. “We tried to make this as much of a ‘girl-power’ story as we could.”
Although Ursula is the villain of the story, Hellyer said she has two “wonderful lines of dialogue” that reflect how some people view women’s contribution to society: “We’re both alike you and I: gals with ambition. Nothing scares a man more now, does it?” and, “You know, a woman doesn’t know how important her voice is until she loses it.”
“As a teacher, I have done everything I can to make sure all of my students, regardless of gender, feel empowered to fulfill their dreams even when there are forces in society that seek to define them before they can start,” said Hellyer.
“The Little Mermaid” also added a few new twists and plot elements to the story.
“The script already took the story further than the Disney movie, giving Ursula a backstory about her resentment and other secondary characters had songs and much more to do on stage that helped shape the tale,” said Hellyer. “I didn’t need to add anything or change anything as it had already been done by the people who wrote the stage version.”
Sundays production was also the final performance for senior Gabriella Rodriguez, who player Ariel and also had the lead in 2015’s play, “The Wedding Singer.”
“[I will mostly miss] the people,” said Rodriguez. “I’ve been doing shows since 7th grade with Mr. Hellyer. I would love to do this as a career. Theater has changed my life and there is so much power in it. I want to be able to inspire audiences and transform paradigms and I know theater is one of the best ways to do so. I get to use my talents to tell life changing stories and I honestly can't see myself doing anything else.”
Rodriguez said her favorite scene in the musical was the song entitled “If Only,” which is the quartet including Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton.
“It was cool to feel like we were all connected on stage while our characters were in separate locations,” she said.
Sophomore Ruben Centeno also managed to work with the limitations of his role as Prince Eric.
“In the movie, Prince Eric is very caring and nice towards Ariel. Even though she can't speak he still shows kindness towards her and treats like any other lady,” he said. “I really wanted to emphasize this in my portrayal. But I was trying to avoid having Prince Eric be the ‘hero.’ After all, the Broadway adaptation of the movie represents Ariel as a woman capable of making her own choices.”
The cast and crew of “The Little Mermaid” hope to stun audiences again next year.