MEDFORD — Medford will go under the sea this weekend for “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” a Medford Community Education summer theater production.
While Medford Community Education has put together a summer show for a decade, those were all under the direction of Shelley Fitzgerald, so when she stepped back from her Medford theatrical duties this past year, an 11th edition of the summer production fell into doubt, but both Randy Domstrand and Ben Beaupre felt this was too “great an opportunity” for current students and alumni to “lose it,” said Domstrand, director for this musical. “I have a fair amount of theater background,” and Beaupre has focused on the vocal performances of the cast of 20, who range in age from fourth graders to alums.
Both Domstrand, a Medford English teacher, and Beaupre, Medford’s choir teacher, “had Disney in mind,” and they “wanted to do something big enough to get peoples’ attention,” hence “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” Domstrand said. In “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” “some of the songs are a little shorter, and the story is slightly different, but the songs everyone loves and hums along to are still there.”
Hurdles to the production included a relatively quick turnaround — they started in early June — and the fact that a handful of cast members, including lead choreographer Emily Cloutier, were in Spain on a class trip for nearly 10 days last month, Domstrand said. The show did receive a major assist from Eric Parrish, the theater director at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, and his father, a Medford resident, with costumes and set pieces.
“I love our costumes,” although all the changes for her litany of characters can be challenging, said Morgan Jones, a rising freshman. “I keep thinking I’ll miss a scene or come out in the wrong costume.”
Another actress with multiple roles to balance is Malia Enzenauer, a rising sixth grader, who was eager to be in this show both to reunite with theater friends she already knows as well as to meet new ones, she said. Plus, “I love ‘The Little Mermaid.’”
Lily Roehrick, who played the eponymous heroine in Medford High School’s spring production of “Sympathy Jones” last spring, simply wanted to be part of this endeavor in any capacity, because “I’ve loved ‘The Little Mermaid’ since I was a little girl,” she said. Like Enzenauer, Jones, and others, Roehrick has multiple characters to juggle, but she appreciates the “different perspective” she’s gained through those various duties.
Of her characters, the ship pilot is “probably the most important,” she said. “The pilot opens the show.”
For Jones, this production serves as a mulligan, since she missed performing in the school’s productions this year, she said. “I would really like to pursue a career in acting,” and she’s especially delighted to be part of the song “She’s In Love,” with her fellow Mersisters, because it’s an “awesome” number.
“We knew (Jones) was a dancer, but nobody knew she could sing, so that was a pleasant surprise,” Domstrand said. “She’s a wonderful singer.”
“She’s in Love” is a favorite of Roehrick’s, as well, said the rising junior. “It’s going to be a big one.”
“We have six girls singing it, which leaves a lot of room for harmonies,” and Domstrand “gave us artistic freedom with it,” Roehrick added. “It’s a great song.”
Rising junior Roberta Domstrand believes “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is “the best song in the entire show,” but she acknowledged she’s “probably biased,” since it’s her character’s show-stopping number, she said with a laugh. “I hope I do it justice.”
The villainous Ursula was the only role she wanted for this musical, and her main challenge has been giving her character dimension, rather than just portraying unalloyed evil, she said. “I have to show her motives in my behavior, because it’s not really in the dialogue.”
A complicated — but visually-arresting — costume can also be an obstacle at times in terms of mobility, she said. “It’s uncomfortable to wear, but it’s worth it.”
Roberta’s brother, Jason, also plays an important part in this musical, and having them both in the cast is a special bonus for Randy Domstrand, their proud father said. “This is my first chance to do a show with my son and daughter.”
Rising senior Lanaya Wacek is living “every little girl’s dream, to be a Disney princess” as Ariel, she said. On the other hand, the character didn’t easily come to Wacek, since “I’m a super-different person from Ariel in real life.”
Ariel is “curious and adventurous,” Wacek said. “I’m more of an introvert.”
She’s rehearsed diligently, however, practicing “every night,” she said. “I think I’ve got most of it down.”
“I knew Lanaya could act, but I didn’t know she could sing,” said Randy Domstrand. “She had a great audition (that) blew (Beaupre) and I away.”
Ariel’s best friend is Flounder, played by Madi Cloutier, who historically has been cast in more “soft-spoken” roles, so Flounder “is very different,” but “this character seems to come more naturally than I expected it to,” Cloutier said. “Flounder is really fun.”
Madi is one of four Cloutier family members in this production, and she’s “been an asset all the way around,” said Randy Domstrand. “She’s been a real leader in the cast.”
The fact that her siblings are in this show was naturally attractive to Madi, as was the opportunity to get back onto a theatrical stage, she said. She enjoys theater, but between her enervating academic course load—she’s studying microbiology and physiology at the University of Minnesota—tap dance classes, band, and choir, theater fell by the wayside this year.
“The Little Mermaid Jr.” is based on the 1989 Disney film. The book is by Doug Wright, the music by Alan Menken — who has won 11 Grammy Awards, eight Academy Awards, and a Tony — and the lyrics are by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.
Performances of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” in the Medford auditorium will be Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets, $5, will be available at the door.
Preparing this production has been “stressful, but the good kind of stress,” said Roberta Domstrand. “You know you’re doing well.”