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Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ at Montpelier High School

Kianna Bromley directs Masque Theatre participants as they rehearse “Kiss The Girl” for their upcoming performance of The Little Mermaid. Photo by Valentyn Smith.
There’s music in the air and, during rehearsal, it creates a special kind of magic at Montpelier High School, where the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Masque Theatre will present its winter musical production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Running Feb. 16 through Feb. 19, this version of the stage hit promises to be celebratory and unique, yet just as captivating as the 1989 animated film based on the original Hans Christian Andersen tale of a rebellious teen mermaid who follows her heart. Ticket sales will help raise funds for a new lighting board that will support every concert, theater production, assembly, and community event held in Smilie Auditorium at Montpelier High School. 

“Our concept, our spine of the play, is to break free of expectations. That’s really what’s driving a lot of our decisions,” said Community-Based Learning teacher and director Kianna Bromley.

In the Smilie Auditorium, you’ll find a ship amongst the sea of seats and a twine fishnet cast across the entire stage floor, as a student cast and crew of more than 55 transform their theater into two sets: the corporate world above and the aquatic world of lagoons and grottos below. 

Main Street Middle School student Maya Kotkes-Cummings, who plays Scuttle the seagull, said, “Everyone here is so welcoming and it is a great environment. Today, we’re here to smooth out some harmonies, exercise self-expression, and embrace our comedic side in an extravagant and fun way.” 

Behind the scenes, the student costuming lead runs a team designing multiple costumes for the 39 cast members, while crew members construct Vivienne Westwood-esque set pieces, from the chaise lounge in Ursula’s lair to shell-studded rocks that swivel into a sparkling clam throne. 

Bromley describes the work as nonstop as she steers the production toward its premiere. True to her word, everyone here is abuzz and bustling along with excitement as they work together. Yet, the scene fully comes alive when students warm up with dance and song. 

“We’re following the Disney script right to a tee, but the visual concepts will be a little different,” Bromley said. “The human world is very corporate. Very strict, very rigid. And the ‘under the sea’ world is extremely flashy. Everyone there is living in this hyper zone of being bold and beautiful all the time. And that’s what they’re expected to be. The opposite is expected on land. Ariel doesn’t really love living like that, that’s not the expectation that feels really comfortable to her. And Eric really feels the opposite way — he feels really restricted and really wants to be free and feel like he can be himself in a different way. So the two of them cross over. And there’s a lot of visual pieces between the costuming and the set that try to represent that as best as possible.” 

“It has been great to have a stable thing to go to and become more involved with over the years,” said stage manager Scarlett Davis, a senior who joined the program as a freshman. “This program creates an opportunity for students to build confidence and communication skills and connect. It also fosters friendship and connections that last beyond the production.” 

While practicing numbers such as “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” castmates smile and shimmy to the upbeat tunes written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. From coordinated conga lines to swaying like cattails, as alternating groups run through the numbers, each scene feels like pure fun; it is clear that this ensemble wants audiences to become part of their world. 

Montpelier High student Josephine Michaelson, who plays Sebastian the crab, said, “It is important for me to play a role specific to a person of color, as a person of color. I hope my role inspires younger audience members. Representation is not always shown in Vermont. But here everyone has been working together as individuals to make one experience and become one voice. It is fun, the music is amazing, and everyone has worked hard.” 

Emmaline Caswell, an ensemble actor and a new student to MHS, said, “Having a community that lets you in is really amazing. Theater’s a team effort. And this show is bringing people together, while they produce an experience that they’re proud of.” 

“The Little Mermaid” shows Feb. 16 through 19 at Montpelier High School Auditorium, 5 High School Drive. Performances are at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 to $15 and available at tinyurl.com/rtaxhj5f or at the door.