TUPELO • Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” has been enchanting audiences since its theatrical debut in 1989.
With the Mickey Mouse corporation turning its ear to its animated properties for new life – like this summer’s “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” remakes or the live-action “Lady and the Tramp” coming this fall – revisiting the classics for the sake of nostalgia brings new audiences into the fold.
But it’s hard to beat the originals, as conveyed by Tupelo Community Theatre’s latest summer youth production which reconnects audiences with Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian and more under the sea.
“The Little Mermaid Jr.” might not take you 20,000 leagues below water, but it will have you tapping your feet and singing along with some 30-year-old classic tunes sure to delight audiences of all ages.
“This is the first movie that I remember going to the theater to see at the old Malco,” said director Lesley Tackitt. “I can remember waiting in line and being scared that it was going to be sold out. It’s my favorite and I was really excited when (TCT) said they were going to do it. It was meant to be.”
More than 70 children ages 5 to 18 make up the cast of merfolk, guppies, sailors and sea creatures, telling the story of Princess Ariel and her longing to know what it’s like to be human.
“We had 160 try out,” Tackitt said. “There’s so much talent in Tupelo and I hate that we can’t use as much as we want. We’ve got such an amazing group that want to be here. Some it’s their first show and it’s great to see so many people work together and help each other out.
“Theater is such a collaborative effort and the more we teach the kids that, the better. It makes them better actors and cast members as they get older.”
Tackitt has made the event a family affair with her mother, Liz Dawson, working as stage manager and father Dave as production manager.
“They’re both wonderful. This has been our summer vacation. It’s been fun figuring out how to make coral out of spray foam and twigs,” she said, laughing.
Donning the mermaid fin is 17-year-old Kaylee Heitger, who calls the chance to play Ariel a dream come true.
“Ariel was the first Disney princess that I ever remember being introduced to by my late grandmother,” said Heitger, an entering senior at Mooreville High School.
Heitger said she is dedicating her performance to her.
“It’s all for her,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to be Ariel if it wasn’t for her. It means so much to be in this part and I’ve dreamed of it since I was itty bitty.”
New friends have been made throughout the cast and Heitger said each actor has left an impact on her.
“The cast is phenomenal and every one of them has pushed me to be a better Ariel and a better Kaylee,” she said. “To see this come to life on stage, especially at the Lyric, means so much. It’s going to be a fantastic show.”
With the colorful set, familiar songs and hopeful message, Tackitt said that while community theater can sometimes be demanding, it is always rewarding.
“To see them in their costumes and and having a good time makes it all worth it,” she said. “We like to remind them that it doesn’t matter if you’re a seahorse or if you’re Ariel – you do your best. This is a commitment and when you make a commitment you give it 100 percent. And they always give it.”
TCT’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” opens next week at the Lyric Theatre.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.
To purchase, call the box office at (662) 844-1935. For more information, visit tct.ms.