‘The Little Mermaid’ on the big stage

Jody Hanna, as Chef Louis, and Brian Hanna, as Sebastian, act out a scene from the live performance of “The Little Mermaid” during a rehearsal at the Newport Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Jan. 2. (Photo by Shelby Wolfe)

Coastal Act Productions' play opens Jan. 11

Coastal Act Productions is taking its audience under the sea for their winter musical: “The Little Mermaid.”

The Disney classic tells the tale of the mermaid Ariel, a daughter of King Triton, who longs to live as humans do on land. She trades her voice for a set of legs in a deal with the sea witch Ursula, but can only remain on land for three days unless she can earn true love’s kiss. The question is, without a word, can she get the prince to fall for her?

While the film version may be familiar to most, the musical brings a few new things to the table. In addition to all the fan favorite songs, such as “Under the Sea” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the musical has a number of additional tunes — and all the music is live.

The orchestra, conducted by Rachel Steward and consisting of high school students and adult musicians, brings a magical and full sound to the auditorium, while the vocals coming from the stage tell the story with sometimes beautiful, sometimes hilarious melodies.

“I feel like this show has it all,” said director Jody Hanna. “There’s a tap number — we have tapping seagulls.”

Key players in the spotlight are Jaden Rockwell as Ariel, Cameron Garner as Prince Eric, Madison Marchant as Flounder and Brian Hanna as Sebastian. However, the show boasts a cast of more than 70 members with ages ranging from adulthood down to 8 years old. Watching the younger performers work hard was a particular joy for Hanna.

“It’s amazing to me, it doesn’t matter how old they are — the choreography can be challenging for everybody, including the adults,” said Hanna. “But watching them (the kids) learn it and really embrace it is pretty amazing … I think that working with kids is magical because kids never say ‘I can’t do that.’ They go, ‘okay, what do you want me to do?’”

Hanna, who has been in theater since middle school, has maintained that same eagerness to go out of her comfort zone and stretch herself. In act two, she can be seen playing the comical role of Chef Louie, the French chef with a great love for seafood — much to the horror of Ariel and Sebastian.

The whole show is a mix of lovely and zany, wild and sweet. Finding a balance that appeals to all ages was a priority for Hanna.

“My biggest thing was … I want more of a storybook feel and less of a cartoon feel,” said Hanna. “Because I want our shows to be shows that are accessible to everyone and that aren’t just enjoyed by kids. We really target families, we want families to come and enjoy it … but I don’t want it to be childish or cartoonish.”

It was that philosophy which shaped Hanna’s vision of what the costumes and set would look like. A big inspiration, she said, was Mardi Gras.

“You’ll notice that our fish don’t really look like fish … some of the fish are going to have Mardi Gras masks,” said Hanna. “I really was going for lots of color, making it high energy and having that party feel to it rather than just these (actors being) fish.”

The show is family-friendly and does not include the use of strobe lights, though there maybe some flashing lights on stage during the performance.

“The Little Mermaid” opens Jan. 11 and closes Jan. 26, running Fridays and Saturdays starting at 7 p.m. — Saturday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Newport Performing Arts Center box office, by phone at 541-265-2787 or online at coastarts.org. Students and seniors receive a discount.