Dover High goes under the sea with ‘Little Mermaid’

Quincy Adutwum is Prince Eric and Bella Shade is Ariel in Dover High School’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” It starts Friday with two shows on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Bella Shade grew up watching Disney films and, donning the red wig and the iconic outfits, she felt she was making the character of Ariel come to life.

“This was always one of my favorites,” she said.

Bella, a junior at Dover High School, takes on the lead role Friday night, during the opening performance of “The Little Mermaid.”

The curtain opens at 7 p.m. Performances are also on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Dover High Auditorium at 1 Dover High Drive. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students, staff, children and seniors.

The play is in conjunction with Central Middle School, which is the second production to bring the schools together in the cast, said Heather Akers, the vocal director for the production.

“This is by far the biggest show that we’ve done,” said Audrey Green, the director and choreographer for the production. “Each year I feel like we can take on harder and harder shows.”

Ms. Greene, who is the director of the dance program at Dover High, previously directed and choreographed the musicals “Bring It On,” (2019) and “Once on This Island” (2018).

This show will see some changes from the movie, she noted. There are more songs, and more depth to the characters, such as Ursula, the antagonist who takes Ariel’s voice.

For their production, instead of a King Triton, there will be a queen on the throne, played by senior Jyani Bonner.

“She’s regal naturally and this is just a perfect role for her,” Ms. Greene said.

This is Jyani’s first time participating in the theater, because she wanted to try something new.

Devin Jones, left, and Gabriel Smyth play turtles in “The Little Mermaid,” which is a joint production between Dover High School and Central Middle School. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“This feels even more wonderful than what I expected,” she said. “I feel like it’s nice to just see women in powerful roles because often it’s like the male or the king and often the moms aren’t really in the Disney movies. So it’s really interesting to see the opposite of that.”

Taking on a film — and a cartoon — and adapting that to the stage has its own challenges.

“I think the students sometimes are intimidated by the character that they’ve been given because it’s so well known, but it’s really fun seeing them come into their own version of the character,” Ms. Green said. “That can be a little intimidating to do, but it really is a whole different story and show because of how the students are embodying their character.”

For Emma Elliott, a junior who will play Scuttle, the seagull who is an “expert” on human stuff, taking on the role was, as Ms. Greene said, intimidating.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, a bird? How am I going to do this?’” she said. “I’m actually really happy. It takes a really big actress to really take on that character analysis of it.”

Playing the character, which involves tap dancing and singing, has pushed her as a performer, she added.

“I also feel like it’s helped me grow with my own personality but also with the range of my voice and pushing it out,” she said.

While playing the lead role, Bella said she tries to make it her own, but also strives to keep it as it was intended.

Emma Elliott plays the part of Scuttle in “The Little Mermaid.”

“She has that curious longingness about her, and she’s just so eager to learn new things,” she said. “So I definitely try to incorporate that.”

The show is more “intricate” than the film, she added.

“The musical definitely, takes a lot more time focusing on the relationships that develops throughout, and it really makes you feel more close with the characters,” she said.

Quincy Adutwum, a freshman who portrays Prince Eric, said the strength of the cast making their characters come to life helps him make his character feel more real.

His favorite scene is the opening, “Fathoms Below,” he said.

“I like being able to interact with Grimsby; he’s like the wingman to Prince Eric,” he said. “We’ve got a great cast.”

Grimsby is played by senior Nikolas Mandalas, who also serves as the student director for the production.

“It’s fun, it’s a new experience,” he said of directing. “From the director’s point of view, I get to see the whole thing on stage and see, ‘Oh, maybe I could do that,’ or, ‘Maybe we could fix that up.’ It helps me see what I don’t see while I’m on stage.”

From left, Olivia Hodgsons as Jetsam, Kayla Waweru as Ursula and Grace Davis as Flotsam.

Ms. Greene emphasized the strength of the cast and crew. She noted that she, Ms. Akers and Donavon Higbee, the costume director, make a good team.

“It’s so important to have a dedicated cast where everybody is all in and really, really, truly wants to do it, because it’s what they love,” she added. “That’s what we have this year. And that has, that’s why this is going to be an incredible show.”

She said this the perfect time to stage a show such as this one.

“It’s on Valentine’s Day weekend. It’s kind of a romantic story,” she said. “It’s an excuse to go and do something different: dinner and see a show. That’s what you can do in New York and in D.C. Why not in Dover?”