Oklahoma may be landlocked, but the Sooner Theatre in Norman will transport audiences “Under the Sea” with this weekend’s production of The Little Mermaid Jr.
Jennifer Baker, executive director of Sooner Theatre, will coach a group of about 60 third- through seventh-graders, some of whom are making their stage premiere.
“We have a mix of seasoned students and ones getting on the stage for the first time,” she said.
Baker said she was excited to stage the musical, considering it wasn’t until late last year that Disney released the rights to several of its productions, including this one.
“We had been calling for years to try to do [the musical] for our summer camp,” she said. “Then the rights became available in a junior version, and we jumped at the chance.”
Baker said audiences can expect some differences from Disney’s much-beloved 1989 animated film, inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story about sea princess Ariel and her yearning for adventure. “There are some new songs,” said Baker. Among them is “She’s in Love,” which is from the Broadway version.
Working with a young cast can pose some challenges, not the least of which is rehearsing for long stretches.
“We see them once a week for two hours. You can’t spend much longer than that, because their minds start getting distracted. Total, we’ve had about 24 hours of rehearsal,” Baker said, but “they’re smart. They’re little pros. Their little minds … watching them be creative, watching them enjoy it [is the best part].”
The performances are double-cast, meaning some principle roles will be played by more than one actor. Rehearsing with both onstage at once can be a little challenging, Baker said, but the kids made it work.
“They can each be their own Ariel,” she said. “They all bring their own little quirks to the role.”