Story by Breanna Sill, Staff writer
A local community theater took on a classic tale of true love and defying the odds during its opening weekend production of “The Little Mermaid” on Jan. 29-31.
Playhouse in the Park is a community theater located in Murray’s Central Park. Since its opening in 1977, the theater has put on more than 10 productions per year and has become an outlet for young people to showcase their talents.
The talent in the theater’s first production of 2016 started work in November.
“There has been a lot of planning and a lot of time going into this show before we even got to the show tonight,” said Brad Brauser, director of “The Little Mermaid.”
All the planning and time that was put into the production was to ensure the cast and crew captured the magic expected from a Disney show.
“People have a certain expectation when it comes to Disney and doing live shows at community theaters like this can be hard because of limited resources,” Brauser said. “We don’t have the budgets or the sets of the big Broadway productions, but I think we have done a fantastic job of capturing that Disney magic as much as we could.”
Brauser is not the only person who went into the production feeling the pressure of high crowd expectations.
The two teenage leads of the show, Laurel Johnston of Murray, who plays Ariel, and Jake Hunter of Mayfield, Kentucky, who plays Prince Eric, also put valuable time and practice into perfecting their roles.
“It’s a really iconic role that I never thought that I could achieve when I first started doing this,” Johnston said.
Hunter echoed her, adding he felt that portraying Prince Eric left him with some big shoes to fill.
“The songs portray a lot more to his character than I think the words do,” Hunter said. “I mean, everybody fell in love with him and it’s kind of hard to depict that, but I mean, I knew when I took this that I would not be able to be the one that everybody fell in love with, but there are ways to show what his character is and that is my purpose. I am just kind of an embodiment of him.”
With the addition of more musical numbers, the stage version of the show differs from the animated version in a few ways.
“It’s true to the movie,” Johnston said. “But we have more music than they do in the movie. Prince Eric has two songs and King Triton has some singing. There is a quartet and I (Ariel) have a song when I technically have no voice, but it’s like a time freeze sort of thing, but we definitely have some different music in it.”
Stephen Keene, music director and Murray State alumnus, said a lot of time is spent rehearsing the music amongst the cast.
“I spend time with the whole cast, but I spend a lot of time with just the lead actors to help them learn how to breathe and sing with emotion,” he said. “I have a music degree from Murray State so that has helped me with this quite a bit.”
Playhouse in the Park’s close proximity to Murray State makes it an easy outlet for students who want to participate in productions but are not serious theater majors.
“I think that Playhouse in the Park is something that is really culturally-enriching for a lot of people who aren’t just music majors,” said Sydney Chambers, junior from Paducah, Kentucky, and the actress who portrays Ursala in the production. “We have Campus Lights that happens, and anyone can do that, but there are a lot of shows that are restricted to theater and music majors. They are so much fun to see, but it’s totally different to be a part of it.”
Upcoming performances of “The Little Mermaid” will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 4, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 and at 2:30 on Feb. 7 at Playhouse in the Park.