Pensacola, Florida
Friday April 26th 2019

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A Timeless Tale Comes to Life

By C. S. Satterwhite

A year ago, at the University of West Florida production of “The Music Man,” breaking news was announced—“The Little Mermaid” was coming to Pensacola. The audience cheered and applauded. The excitement was palpable, and now the moment has arrived.

Swimming to the stage starting this weekend is a cast of familiar characters, surely to the delight of many who grew up with one of Disney’s most popular films. As this year marks the 30th anniversary of Disney’s release of “The Little Mermaid,” the timing couldn’t be better for a revival.

While today most know “The Little Mermaid” as the 1989 Disney film, the inspiration comes from the somewhat dark and cautionary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story, a mermaid named Ariel falls for a human, Prince Eric. As mermaids are not truly human, Ariel enlists a sea witch named Ursula to trade in her fin for legs. As with any such fairytale bargain as that between Ariel and Ursula, there is a price to be paid.

Bringing such a beloved children’s story to the stage might fill a director with a sea of anxiety. That’s not so for UWF director Sara Schoch. A graduate of the prestigious Brandeis University, Schoch teaches musical theatre at UWF and has over 150 productions under her belt.

Nonetheless, she knows “The Little Mermaid” will be a special show for many people. Where some may fear the expectations of an audience who grew up with this animated story, Schoch is confident that her production “honors the message of the timeless tale.”

“I think we have the key elements that are in the movie,” said Schoch.

But if one had only seen the film version, there are extra treats in the stage production. Familiar songs, such as “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea,” will surely get the audience singing, but the stage offers more.

“In the Broadway version, there are a few new songs and a deeper development of some storylines,” said Schoch.

And for the super rare few who have not seen the film, do not fear. Schoch promises “there will be something for everyone, whether you’ve seen the movie or not.”

The goal, however, is not to reproduce the film. The goal is to create an entirely new experience for a multigenerational audience.

“I’m watching my niece fall in love with this adventurous mermaid, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future,” said Schoch.

Working with a seasoned cast, Schoch’s greatest challenge is showcasing the talent. From the role of Ariel, played by Rebecca Douglas, to student assistant director Victoria O’Dell, UWF’s talent pool will be on full display in this well-rehearsed and ornately-designed musical.

“We have the entire department working on this show,” said Schoch. As this musical has been in the works for over a year now, Schoch said that “it is impossible to think about the time that everyone associated…has poured into this production.”

“One of the things that is so special about the theatre department here at UWF is that everyone has a hand in making productions a success. So, I want to make sure that my direction reflects the incredible talent of our students and faculty,” said added.

For Schoch, who recently directed “The Music Man,” this play offers a personal gratification. “I think that this one [“The Little Mermaid”] allowed me to return to my imagination a little bit more,” she said. “I love fantastical worlds because when we buy right into the convention that there is going to be a mermaid on stage, the sky is the limit as far as the artistic vision goes.”

Although most of the cast and crew are students, most are also veterans of the stage with fairly long resumes. Michael Anthony Butler is a senior majoring in theatre and plays the role of Chef Louis in the play.

“My favorite part of working on this musical was discovering parts of my acting ability that I had never shown before,” he said. “This role is larger than life and a lot of fun to play.”

Butler worked with Schoch previously in “The Music Man” and “Christmas Carol” and also performed in the Pensacola Little Theatre’s wildly successful “Mary Poppins” over the summer.

If “The Little Mermaid” lives up to its expectations and Schoch’s confidence is well placed, Pensacola’s theatergoers will leave with their hearts warmed with love and heads filled with song. At long last, Ariel has arrived.

THE LITTLE MERMAID
What: UWF Department of Theatre presents Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 23 and 24
Where: Mainstage Theatre at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Bldg. 82, 11000 University Parkway.
Cost: $18 for adults, $14 for senior citizens and active military, $12 for non-UWF students and UWF faculty and staff, $6 for high school students, free for UWF students
DETAILS: uwf.edu/tickets