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Review: Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ at Tuscarora High School

From left, Krystena Pennix, Natalie Ah Nee and Faith Jordan perform in Tuscarora High School's presentation of Disney's The Little Mermaid. [photo by Robert Johnson]

By Sam Fremin, Stone Bridge High School

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is beloved all around the world. Everyone knows something about the story, even if they’ve never watched a version of it before. Overcoming major obstacles, Tuscarora High School’s production of “The Little Mermaid” offered a modified take on the classic in a way that kept the audience engaged throughout.

“The Little Mermaid” is a Broadway adaptation of Disney’s 1989 film that was heavily inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. It follows Ariel, a mermaid, who dreams of living on land as a human and Eric, a prince, who is in desperate need of finding love. A sea witch, Ursula, gives Ariel feet, allowing her to experience land above for the first time. That comes with a price however; a price that leaves Ariel voiceless and Eric confused as he tries to connect with his love interest exclusively nonverbally.

One of the largest obstacles Tuscarora was faced with was written in by the original authors. Carrie Zurliene, as Ariel, spent almost all of act two unable to speak to her castmates. While her acting prowess was on full display prior to the intermission break, Zurliene’s understanding of her character shined blindingly bright afterwards. Simultaneously, James Sheppard (Prince Eric) was placed in a sink or swim situation as he had to get the audience invested in his struggle for love without anyone talking opposite him. His concern and eventual elation seemed genuine throughout the piece. Both Zurliene and Sheppard’s voices worked together in song to show the connection that was difficult to express without constant dialogue.

No question about it, JJ Hensley, in the role of Sebastian, stole the whole show. Arguably dealt the trickiest hand out of anyone in the cast, Hensley performed from the seat of a wheelchair. What’s more is, his portrayal of Sebastian did not flounder even slightly, in spite of his uncommon position. Hensley’s vocal skills and clear knack for comedic timing took a backseat to his infectious energy. The show always benefited from his presence onstage. Hensley was not the only undersea actor that was under injury stress, Dawson Lazorchak (King Triton) performed with a recently broken arm. Astoundingly enough, again it had no impact on the quality he offered. Lazorchak’s singing was a welcome portion of the heartfelt “If Only (Quartet)” with Ariel, Eric, and Sebastian. Natalie Ah Nee, Krystena Pennix, and Faith Jordan (Ursula, Flotsam, and Jetsam, respectively) demonstrated clear chemistry whenever onstage together. Their scenes often included few to no other characters. Rather
than allowing these moments to drown, the trio played off of each other in a way that kept audience members constantly engaged.

The visual spectacle would not have felt complete had it not been for the technical design. Forced to conceal major injuries, it’s highly impressive the costume team was able to come up with pieces so gorgeous and functional. No mishaps regarding costumes occurred and they were easy to marvel at. The lighting highlighted the well thought out set pieces and gave the illusion of being underwater. Every factor of the show complimented one another and the end result was an enjoyable experience all the way around. I do not envy any “poor unfortunate souls” who managed to miss it.

[This review of the May 4 performance at Tuscarora High School  is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]