Under the sea … out of this world

By on February 11, 2015

EPAC presents Kids4Kids production of ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.’

This past summer the family and I headed out on our version of the great American road trip. We went to Asheville, N.C. for daddy (the craft beer mecca of the east, though Lancaster County is giving the Smoky Mountain town a run for its money), Nashville for mommy (this was actually a conference, but we still made a vacation of it), and the theme parks in Florida for the kids. We covered more than 2,500 miles of roadway over 15 days and visited 11 states. The Griswolds have nothing on us!

We came back with a million memories and almost as many photos, status updates, and Tweets. While I was backing up all these photographs over the weekend I came across one more apropos than the others at this date and time. The picture is my daughter standing next to a larger-than-life Disney-fied statue of King Triton. In the picture she is wearing the exact same shirt she wore to EPAC on Saturday for the second performance of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” Once I saw the photo I knew I had my personal anecdote to start the review of the show, which opened Friday, Feb. 6, at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre in Ephrata to a full house.

Like most EPAC Kids4Kids productions, seating is at a premium — although Artistic Director Ed Fernandez announced seats are still available for upcoming shows — and packed performances will run through Feb. 22.

Director Irving Gonzalez is back doing what he does best, bringing out the biggest of the area’s littlest stars. “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” is another notch in the director’s belt of successful productions, which positively pleases all ages.

Under the sea we find Ariel (Josey Terry) who is tardy for her father’s — King Triton (Edwin Crockett) — celebration in honor of the deceased Queen. Ariel, like in the work many of us have grown to know and love, is distracted by things from the world on the surface — dinglehoppers, thingamabobs, and Prince Eric (Josh Evert). Disobeying her father, even scuttling the caution from her subaquatic supporters, Sebastian the semi-Jamaican, composer crab (Steven Gagliano); Flounder the … uhm, fish (James Wiley); and Scuttle the gull (Stella Newman), the underwater princesses pines for life on dry land. Enter Ursula the sea witch (Heather Bounds) who bargains for the mermaid’s soul and takes her most powerful weapon, her voice.

King Triton and Halli Upton

King Triton and Halli Upton

The most comedic point in the show features Chef Louis (Joshua Battisti) who is preparing the wedding feast when, while professing his love of “Les Poissons,” runs into Sebastian, a crustacean fit for a king! Battisti has obviously grown since his part as the Scarecrow in last season’s “Wizard of Oz.” He dominated a scene in need of a strong performance.

When speaking of roles, talk should often start at the lead, and here we find Terry’s Ariel swimming amongst a sea of talent and fluid through the waves in Heelys, the best mermaid she can be. Terry’s voice is tranquil and powerful, she adds hope and despair when needed and leads a powerful performance. Her abilities make her a natural for this role, subtle and untamed. As her antagonist cephalopod, Bounds’ Ursula is no equal in the storyline; however, the talent in this 15-year old is immeasurable. I was stunned by her poise, her command of the stage, and her willingness to travel all the way from Maryland for this role. Bounds is on a bee-line for greatness!

Sounding the praises and noting the gifts of all 65 children in EPAC’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” would take up considerable column inches, so it cannot be done. My congratulations to Liam Roy (Flotsam) and Bailey Ammons (Jetsam) for their portrayal of two of the sneakiest, conniving eels I’ve encountered. A wonderful bow should be bestowed upon the six sisters who wowed the crowd with fluidity in both voice and movement. The true star is/are the kids as a whole. The dedication of these young thespians, ages 6 through 16, is astounding. Young talent is drawn to EPAC as if the stage were gravity itself, pulling in the treasure just like that floating down to Ariel’s grotto … under the sea.

This review is all about the kids, as I feel it should be, but theatergoers need to know to expect an exceptional set designed by veteran craftsman Mike Rhoads, well-crafted costumes by designer Kate Willman and wardrobe supervisor Jennifer Farrington, and masterful lighting by Jeff Cusano.

To purchase tickets to “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.,” visit ephrataperformingartscenter.com or call 733-7966.

As a professional writer with an education in theater and creative writing, Michael C. Upton regularly previews and reviews film and live performance for the Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express; his daughter is also a member of the ensemble of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” He welcomes reader feedback at somepromcu@gmail.com.

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