Community theatre's production of Disney's, "The Little Mermaid" defies tradition

Hannah Swayze • Feb 25, 2019 at 9:29 AM

Johnson City Community Theatre opens its production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Thursday, with a message of inclusivity. 

The popular show, which is based on the 1989 movie, features the same story many grew up watching in the 90s. Most are familiar with the story of a young mermaid who dreams of living on the shore with humans. Ultimately drawn by the love of a prince, Ariel bargains away her beautiful singing voice for the chance to be where the people are. 

Scott Elliott, director of the production, said that this version follows the movie pretty closely. However, the cast is made up of a diverse group of actors playing various parts that aren’t always expected. Most notably, Jacklyn Halpin, the actress portraying Ariel, is Black. 

“I think that’s an important concept for us all to learn, given our current climate, not just in the South but across America, we just have to realize that love knows no bounds and knows no color and neither does a Disney princess,” said Elliott. 

Halpin, who is a fourth-year nursing student at East Tennessee State University said she didn’t expect to get the part, due to her skin color and because in previous shows she’s done, many directors like to do the shows as they’ve been done previously. 

“I couldn’t even believe it just because for me and I guess just princess roles… if you look at me I don’t fit the character,” said Halpin. “That was just a big step for myself and for the theatre and everything.”

The show, since adapted for the stage, is also a little different than fans of the movie may expect. According to Elliott, many of the songs added to the musical were created from underscoring in the movie. In fact, Elliott says one of the best moments of the musical isn’t even in the movie all.

“King Triton, Ariel, Prince Eric and Sebastian sing a song called, ‘If Only’ as a quartet and it is a completely gut-wrenching heart-on-your-sleeve song with all the issues they’re struggling with,” said Elliott. 

Of course, a show this large doesn’t come without its challenges. Elliot said that outside of the cast over 50 people have been in and out of the community theatre for the length of the project helping get the show on its feet. 

At least seven different people have taken on helping with the elaborate costumes. Also, every single piece of the set in on wheels, which took plenty of preparation and requires on-the-ball attention from stagehands. 

Regardless of their take on the classic story, Elliott hopes that the audience leaves happy, smiling and having enjoyed the tenderness of a good love story. But more importantly, he hopes that the audience comes away with is the message that Disney is for everyone.

“No matter how small you are, how big you are, the color of your skin, you can be what you want to be. We have princesses that are not your typical princesses,” said Elliott. “We have [princesses] of several different sizes, which is wonderful. We have our Ariel Jacklyn Halpin, who is not your traditional young caucasian girl... I want everyone to look at it and go, ‘color and size gender, whatever. They mean nothing.’”

The how also features Ronnie Jenkins as Prince Eric, Mike Musick as King Triton, Julian Young as Sebastian, Marian Short as Ursula, Dustin Lawson as Scuttle and Nan Estes as Founder. 

“The Little Mermaid” opens at the Johnson City Community Theatre this weekend on Thursday, Feb. 28. To purchase tickets, visit jccommunitytheatre.org or call 423-491-5053.

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