“The Little Mermaid” promises to be Persephone Theatre’s “biggest show” ever

Joema Frith takes centre stage as Sebastian the crab during the media call for Persephone Theatre’s production of 'The Little Mermaid' in Saskatoon, SK, April 10, 2024. Photo Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

Persephone Theatre artistic director Heather Cant did not mince words when asked about her thoughts and hopes for the company’s upcoming production of the Broadway musical The Little Mermaid.

“This is probably the biggest show Persephone Theatre has ever done,” she said.

The stage adaptation of the Disney animated classic is set to step, scuttle and swim its way to the Persephone main stage from April 10 to May 5. The story of the show is likely well-ingrained in the public consciousness in the year 2024: Ariel the mermaid (Synthia Yusuf), chafing at the restrictions of undersea life and the rules of her father King Triton (Robbie Towns), falls in love with the land-dwelling Prince Eric (Caulin Moore) and makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula (Kristel Harder) to try to be with him.

While the heart of the show is the same as the original Disney production, Cant said the musical does an excellent job of fleshing out more of the story and of each character.

“The animated movie has been my default reference point, and the thing that makes me most excited,” she said. “But we’ve taken some things in slightly different directions … (the Broadway script) was really morphed into something that has a strong story to it, that does deviate a little bit from the animation.”

Cant’s claims of the biggest — or at least, one of the biggest — shows that Persephone Theatre has ever tackled is not unfounded. With a cast of 18 performers and a team of musicians to play through the beloved tunes, it’s certainly the largest-scale production to grace the stage since before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down in 2020.

And that’s not counting the costumes, makeup, choreography, sets and lighting needed to bring each locale to life. Cant lauded the work of her entire creative team in building out varied and key scenes, giving particular note to the set design and lighting effects that create a distinct feel when the show is “under the sea.”

It’s a large challenge, especially with material as well-known and well-beloved as a Disney show like The Little Mermaid. But as Cant puts it, maybe it’s time to remind audiences what wonders can be built in a theatre instead of on a screen.

“One of the reasons I chose this show is because of the spectacle, because of that theatre magic element,” she said. “I felt like, both those of us at Persephone and our patrons, our audiences, are really craving that theatre magic … this show really does utilize every possible trick we could pull out.”

A cast of 18 is sizeable for Persephone Theatre, and Cant and her creative team certainly had a wide pool to choose from: Cant said about 250 people from across the country auditioned for roles in the show.

And of those 18, the majority are originally from Saskatchewan. Many of the local performers are scattered through the ensemble, with others (like Harder in the role of Ursula) taking on more featured roles. Cant emphasized the importance of showcasing local talent in the production, noting the numerous Saskatoon and Saskatchewan artists involved on the production side as well.

As The Little Mermaid is set to hit Persephone Theatre, Cant said she hopes the audience can walk away from the show feeling that grand theatre magic once again.

“We want to be reminded of all the reasons we love theatre in the first place, and I believe this show can do that,” she said. “People think of Disney as just a kids’ show, but it isn’t. There’s just so much to see.”

The Little Mermaid runs at Persephone Theatre until May 5. Tickets can be purchased online at persephonetheatre.org.

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