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Under The Sea With A Beloved 'Mermaid'

Aaron Wiessing
From left, Joe Collins (Eric), Matthew Henry (Sebastian), and Dayle Hennenfent (Ariel) in "The Little Mermaid."

"The Little Mermaid," with its charismatic singing sea creatures, ushered in a new era in Disney animation. The 1989 film was the precursor of all those blockbuster film and stage musicals that followed, including "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

Now Bloomington-Normal audiences will have a chance to see if the stage version of "The Little Mermaid" contains everything they loved about the animated film with Community Players' new production of the musical.

Producer Chris Terven said the play's charm lies in its story: what happens when two outsiders—a mermaid and a prince—from different worlds come together in love.

The mermaid Ariel "feels like a fish out of water to use that metaphor," Terven said.

She "basically wants to escape what she doesn't feel is right for her and finding true love and a place where she belongs despite the fact that she has to leave her family to do so. She's in a torn situation."

"The Little Mermaid" follows a highly successful production from the Players last year of "Beauty and the Beast." 

"We've really been trying to do a balance by offering classics like 'Little Mermaid' and newer shows," Terven said. Coming up later this season at Community Players are the musicals "Sister Act," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" and "Into the Woods."

One challenge in the current production has been creating the costumes for the various sea creatures, such as an octopus and crab.

"It takes a village for this one. We have 12 different people who have modified or sewn from scratch (costumes) to make as much fantasy as possible appear on stage," Terven said. All of the mermaid tails, for instance, were hand-sewn.

"They have turned out just spectacular. There is so much color light and fantasy on stage just for the costumes alone," he added.

The Players consists of amateur actors of a variety of ages, most of whom live locally.

"One thing we are blessed with in Bloomington-Normal is abundance of talent, with both of the colleges and with amazing high school theater opportunities for students to start out at a young age and get infected with the theater bug. That just keeps the talent coming forward," Terven said.

The original Broadway production wasn't a hit with some New York theater critics who preferred the film version. But audiences loved the live production. A six-week run in Denver sold out every night—95,000 seats.

The stage production includes several songs that weren't in the original 1989 film.

"The new songs are wonderful and the talent with have is doing them justice all over the place," Terven said.

"The Little Mermaid" with music and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater is on stage at Community Players in Bloomington tonight through Sunday and July 20-23.

Also on stage Thursday through Sunday this weekend and next at the Connie Link Amphitheatre is the Normal Parks and Recreation Department high school summer musicals production of "Footloose."

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