By Noah Foster-Koth
Roosevelt Drama’s production of The Little Mermaid was an adventure behind the scenes as well as on stage, according to the cast and crew. When one of the show’s biggest stars experienced flu symptoms during a performance, the rest of the cast had to call upon their improvisational skills to finish the show. Later that night, the story’s main villain was portrayed by an actress who had never played the character before.
The Little Mermaid is the story of Ariel, a young mermaid who longs to journey to the surface world and falls in love with a human prince. The deceitful sea witch Ursula promises to give Ariel human legs in exchange for the young mermaid’s voice. Ursula’s role in the plot becomes more significant in the second act, when she sends her eel minions Flotsam and Jetsam to sabotage Ariel’s efforts to woo Prince Eric.
Seniors Abby Jernberg and Bay Loovis traded off between playing Ariel during the shows. Jernberg and Loovis’ experiences with their role have been documented in the February issue of The Roosevelt News, [which can be found here – insert link to PDF?] The role of Ursula was performed by Sophie Klein in seven of production’s eight shows. “Sophie Klein brought really unique qualities to Ursula, things that I hadn’t seen in the movie or the Broadway show,” enthuses Joel Curry, the production’s assistant director, “She really used her whole entire body when she performed, even though you only saw her top half. She was a great fit for the part. I’m very proud of her.” However, during the intermission of Friday’s first show, Klein became ill and was unable to perform during the play’s second act. Ariel’s story was left without one of its most vital roles.
Fortunately, Larson Ernessie and Ryan Gleeson (the actors who played Flotsam and Jetsam, respectively) were able to improvise during the second act to replace Ursula as the story’s primary antagonists. “We came up with some new lines to add time instead of having a song,” explains Ryan Gleeson, who played Jetsam. Gleeson and Ernessie were only able to rehearse their new scenes once before going onstage. Their improvisational skills impressed other members of the cast, including junior Elliott Moore. “It ended up being a very funny scene. I’m impressed with how graceful they were given the pressure they were under,” says Moore, who played Ariel’s sister Arista.
Klein’s illness persisted on Friday night, so Justine Cameron, one of the production’s makeup artists, took over the role of Ursula for the evening performance. Cameron was not an understudy, but she had many of the songs memorized from watching the show’s rehearsals. Cameron also had a copy of the script onstage during Friday’s evening show. Her performance was well received by the audience.
Klein was able to return to her role for the last two showings of The Little Mermaid on Saturday. Her temporary illness aside, she maintains that working on Mermaid was a positive experience overall. “Despite bumps in the road, we all really pulled ourselves together to put on a great show. And truly the best thing about being a part of this production was witnessing the talent among my peers. I felt honored to watch them perform night after night.”