Debbie Croft: Mariposa County High's 'Little Mermaid' a big show

February 28, 2013 

— Red-haired Aminta Dunn is a newcomer to Mariposa. But being on stage is nothing new to this high school junior.

For someone who has played a lot of different roles, she says, "This is the first time I've ever played an underwater princess who talks to fish, so I definitely have a lot to learn."

This weekend's performance of the musical "The Little Mermaid" is a big production for Mariposa County High School. But the drama students and their director, Bryan Starchman, believe they're up to the task.

A total of 28 students are working on stage and behind the scenes, with several playing multiple parts. Rod Fiester, the high school's chorus director, is in charge of music.

Two students are directing choreography: Kira Hart, who plays the sea witch Ursula, and Jessee Brownell, acting as the seagull Scuttle. Shawnee Long is stage manager and heads the back stage crew. Set designers are Sierra Eagle, Hannah Schiff and Alexander Gonzales. Rebecca Adams and Tomben Cunningham are in the booth, running the lights and sound.

As soon as Musical Theater International began offering the rights of production to high schools for "The Little Mermaid" in May of last year, Starchman applied.

This group has been rehearsing four times a week since early January. Only days before performance weekend, Starchman could foresee long nights ahead, constructing sets and working out lighting with a new computer-operated system.

Although rehearsals last week still had some glitches, the kids' enthusiasm and talent shone through. Several of the students expressed appreciation for these teachers who have mentored them in their acting pursuits. They were aware, though, that vocal projection and choreography needed improvement.

Prince Eric is played by Adam Link, a sophomore. As a pianist and guitarist, music is a big part of his life.

As a freshman, Sage Hart played the mouse in "The Aristocats." Now he plays Grimsby, the prince's valet. Hart has matured as an actor in his four years in the drama department.

"We have a lot to live up to, but this school has gifted actors. I think we'll be able to pull it together," Hart said.

West Bothwell is King Triton, Ariel's father, and the maniacal Chef Louis. Kylie Bazinet plays Sebastian, Triton's servant.

Flounder is Ariel's best friend and constant companion, played by Ben Schiff. He was Peter Pan in last summer's Mariposa Playhouse production, and credits Starchman for helping develop his talent and desire for acting.

Starchman's wife, Noel Morrison, her mother and Christina Hibert have undertaken the huge task of designing and sewing the enchanting costumes. Starchman and Morrison saw the Broadway tour of "The Little Mermaid" in Sacramento last spring, which influenced costume designs for the high school's production.

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge of all is creating an underwater world on a very old and dilapidated stage. This production requires a lot of set changes, dozens of hand props, and money spent on costumes for nonhuman characters that may only be used once.

Turning an animated Disney film into a live stage play is another challenge.

"In a cartoon, not only are you able to defy the law of physics, you can zoom in on any key elements," Starchman explains. "But on stage all the action has to be visible to the entire audience."

Without revealing any surprises, one special effect is the use of sneakers with wheels. Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula's minion eels, glide on stage, giving the appearance of moving effortlessly underwater.

Kira Hart, no relation to Sage, said: "What our show lacks in flashiness, we'll have to make up for with our love for performing."

Performances of "The Little Mermaid" will be held at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are available at www.ticketriver.com (search: MCHS), and at the door one hour before showtime. General admission is $9; for students, senior citizens and children ages 12 and under, the cost is $7. This show is rated G.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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