Two-weekend runs for Music Theatre Wichita can be a nail-biter for producers.
Sure, season ticket holders will cover attendance at the first weekend, but will “another 2,000 people per night suddenly decide they want to come down to Century II?” asks Wayne Bryan, the show’s producing artistic director.
It’s not nearly as much of a concern when “The Little Mermaid” is the musical in question, though.
MTW is preparing to mount what will likely be the largest show of its 2018 season — also its finale for the year — a production of the ever-popular Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
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Didn’t MTW already do this?
Music Theatre Wichita previously did a production of the musical in 2011, when it was one of only three in the country selected to produce “The Little Mermaid.”
The show was not as well-received on Broadway as Disney had hoped, Bryan said, so three theaters were given a chance to essentially workshop the musical.
“We felt much of the dilemma with the Broadway version was that they had done a set design that never told you if you were on the sea, under the sea, or near the sea — it was all very abstract and I didn’t think told the story very well,” Bryan said.
Disney representatives attended MTW’s 2011 performance and “were very impressed,” Bryan said.
Shortly thereafter, the musical was significantly rewritten.
Songs were taken out, songs were added, and its runtime was made shorter.
So this version of “The Little Mermaid” is one Wichita audiences have never seen before, though “they really kept the bones of what it was,” said director and choreographer Linda Goodrich.
Is it like the animated film?
The musical version of “The Little Mermaid” is similar to the 1989 animated film, but there were some significant changes made in the adaptation.
Most of the changes come in the form of new songs, including “Positoovity,” “Her Voice,” “Beyond My Wildest Dreams,” “Daddy’s Little Angel,” “If Only,” “The Contest” and others. Some of the new songs were cut in the 2012 reworking of the musical.
Iconic scenes like “Under the Sea” are left largely unchanged.
In the musical, King Triton and Ursula are portrayed as brother and sister — a concept that expands on what the film perhaps implies.
Who’s playing Ariel?
Following in Music Theatre Wichita’s recent tradition, the lead in “The Little Mermaid” is a college student plucked from its resident company.
Tatum Grace Ludlam, who will be a senior at the University of Oklahoma this fall, plays Ariel.
Jake Smith, of North Carolina’s Elon University, plays opposite her as Prince Eric.
MTW auditioned “a whole lot of Broadway ladies” for the role of Ariel, Bryan said, but was pleasantly surprised with Ludlam.
“We did not think we would have Ariel come out of the company,” he said. “There’s a certain freshness that you hope to find with the character. Her naivete is not just being a young woman, but it’s also that she hasn’t experienced land and some other things.
“Honestly, after ladies have lived in New York for a fair amount of time, it’s hard to come by that element of surprise as easily.”
Ludlam, who “grew up in the age of Disney princesses,” said playing Ariel now is a dream come true.
“I was inspired by those singing women when I was a child — who sang along obnoxiously to the TV,” she said with a laugh. “Now to be that and recognize that I could be inspiring some younger people is crazy.”
Anyone else audiences may recognize?
Wichita favorite Karen Robu — most recently seen on the trapeze in “Pippin” — is returning for her third production of the summer.
In “The Little Mermaid,” Robu reprises the role of Ursula, which she previously played in MTW’s 2011 production.
She said she’s been “watching octopus escape videos” on YouTube to get an idea of how they can move.
Be on the lookout for her dress, an intricate piece of costuming by Leon Dobkowski.
Lawrence Cummings is returning for his second show of MTW’s summer, previously playing “Sweaty Eddie” in “Sister Act.”
Cummings reprises the role of Sebastian the crab, a role he has played at many theaters across the country (including in MTW’s 2011 production).
There will be upwards of 50 people on stage during Sebastian’s “Under the Sea,” including local teens and children.
“(‘Under the Sea’) was one of the most exciting things we ever saw here in 2011,” Bryan said.
Are there still tickets available?
As of mid-week, there were still tickets available at all performances of “The Little Mermaid,” though most are in the mid- to rear-orchestra and the balcony.
If you’re looking to get in, check the extra second-weekend performances, where more tickets are typically available. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get decently close at those performances.
For more information, check out www.mtwichita.org.
‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’
When: First-weekend dates: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 8-9; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 10-11; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 11-12; and 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. Second-weekend dates: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.
Where: Concert Hall, Century II, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $34-$69 for evening performances, $32-$66 for matinees, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107 or online at www.mtwichita.org. Student-rush tickets available for half-price on a first-come first-serve basis at the box office two hours prior to every showtime.
More information: Show is rated G. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes. Children must be 5 years old to attend, except at the special 2 p.m. matinee Aug. 18, where children 3 and older are allowed.