Art & Theater

Taking you under the sea

How the Palace’s The Little Mermaid created its own underwater fairy tale

By Hannah Turtle

hturtle@hippopress.com

The Little Mermaid is in the headlines.

Just as the Palace Theatre prepared to kick off its production of the musical based on the classic Disney animated movie, the first teaser trailer dropped for Disney’s 2023 live-action film version of the story.

“We had no idea that was going to come out so close to opening, but the cast has been so excited about it,” said Sebastian Goldberg, assistant artistic director and choreographer of the production. “Everyone loves to try that riff that she [Halle Bailey, the actress playing Ariel] sings.”

The Palace’s The Little Mermaid runs at the Manchester theater through Oct. 2, with shows on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Without the benefit of animation or CGI, the Palace’s production team had to get creative, tasked with designing a set that looks and feels as though it is deep in the ocean. In addition to strategic lighting, the set uses some unexpected materials.

“There’s this stuff, it’s called The Great Stuff, it’s normally used for insulation or as a gap filler in construction projects, but we’ve been using it a lot to design the set. When we let it dry and paint over it, it looks a lot like coral,” Goldberg said.

The set, though, is only half the battle in giving the show the impression of being “under the sea.

“Every show has its own unique challenges. For our actors, it takes a lot of practice to give the impression of being underwater,” Goldberg said. “One thing they do is move their arms as though they’re treading water, so while they’re doing a scene, they also have to be conscious of that.”

Even without the unique challenges of designing a show that takes place underwater, The Little Mermaid is still somewhat out of the ordinary for the Palace, whose later mainstage productions this season include more traditional “adult” shows like Grease and A Christmas Carol.

“During our regular season, we don’t usually do these types of shows, but The Little Mermaid is such a big show and such a big part of so many people’s lives and childhoods,” Goldberg said.

To Goldberg, it’s a production that can be enjoyed by all ages.

“Ariel is a special character. She’s fiercely independent, she follows her heart, sometimes to a fault, but she has that endearing naivete that makes her so loveable,” he said. “That’s something the audience will be able to feel, and want to be on this journey with her while they watch the show.”

As they prepared for opening night on Sept. 16, Goldberg was hoping audiences will get something special out of seeing The Little Mermaid live.

“I hope that any time someone leaves the Palace that they remember there’s nothing quite like live theater. We’re all going through so much these days and theater is such an escape, and so I’m excited for people to let themselves get lost in the story, and to leave feeling a little lighter, maybe wanting to sing and dance through the street,” he said.

The Little Mermaid
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester; 668-5588
When: Now through Sunday, Oct. 2. Show times are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., plus Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25 to $45 at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

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