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Cooper High School's THE LITTLE MERMAID

Chef Louis (DJ Drees) LOVES Les Poissons as Sebastian (Austin Mills) gets scared in Cooper High School's production of THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Jackson LaCroix.

Review by Eliza Russo, Mercy McAuley Critic Team

As a certain red lobster says, "the seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake." But what happens when a young mermaid ventures out of familiar waters to chase her true love? Randall K. Cooper High School invited the audience to find out in their production of The Little Mermaid.

With music by Alan Menken, Disney's The Little Mermaid dives into the life of Ariel (Hannah Richardson), a mermaid princess who loves to collect things from the human world. When she saves a human prince, Eric (Grant Baudendistel), from a shipwreck, she falls in love instantly and wishes to become human. An evil sea witch grants her wish, but at a price: she has three days to woo the prince and make him kiss her--without her voice. Ariel and the price fall slowly in love, learning the true value of loving what someone's like inside.

An enthusiastic cast made this production into something unique to Randall K. Cooper High School. A combination of distinctive set pieces and well-rehearsed performers kept the show engaging throughout, with a steady energy that perfectly matched the comedic tone of the show.

Hannah Richardson captured Ariel's rebellious naivety with precision; her vibrant movements and rich voice complemented Ariel's youthful character. In her moments alone during "Part of Your World," Richardson showed great emotional depth, displaying her genuine passion for the role. Taiya Forton brought dry sarcasm and wicked elegance to Ursula, the vengeful sea witch, and wowed the audience with impressive voice control during "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

Along with the Mersisters, Callie Schwartz (Flounder) delivered a praiseworthy rendition of "She's in Love," bringing a lighthearted gossipy attitude as they discussed Ariel's strange behavior after meeting Prince Eric. Schwartz' consistent, strong voice brought character to the number, helping to keep the energy up alongside fifties-style choreography. Last but not least, the Hot Crustacean Band (comprised of mostly student performers) did a great job bringing life and energy to both the big numbers and the quiet moments between scenes.

The technical aspects of this show were simplistic but well-executed; the two main boats were beautifully decorated by Israel Saldivar and looked like real wooden planks. Triton's rage was an interesting moment from multiple crews, with a well-timed light flash and wobbling shelf making it seem like King Triton had truly blown up all of Ariel's collection. Bradlee Reed-Whalen's lighting was especially wonderful during "If Only (Quartet)", with King Triton (Zach Banish) and Sebastian (Austin Mills) coated in blue lights as they were underwater, while Ariel and Eric basked in the warm tones of the sun. Though some sound issues made it difficult to hear lines, the production moved with the same constant pace and energy, never faltering. Overall, the crew did an excellent job in contributing to the energy of the show.

Randall K. Cooper High School did a wonderful job with The Little Mermaid. They truly deserve a round of applause for their hard work in bringing everyone "Under the Sea" with them to share this story of true love.

Ariel (Hannah Richardson) trades her voice for legs to Ursula (Taiya Forton) as Jetsam (Claire Longo) and Flotsam (Malayna Pope) look on. Photo courtesy of Jackson LaCroix

Review by Brooke Yates, Ryle High School Critic Team

Ever since Disney released their animated feature adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale, The Little Mermaid has won the hearts of adults and children alike. Cooper High School delivered the Broadway version of this timeless tale with a healthy bit of nostalgia as well as quite a few delightful surprises to keep the audience guessing.

Mere moments after the curtain opened for the first time, the audience was immediately transported Under the Sea <cq> through the clever use of heelies to help underwater characters navigate the stage smoothly via skating, simulating the effects of swimming. This captivating, and risky, decision remained consistent for most of the show, effectively encompassing the heart of the performance by illustrating the cast's dedication to keeping the oceanic magic alive and their ability to recover if anything - wheel or otherwise - went astray.

Hannah Richardson as the all-but titular character Ariel, had very big fins to fill, but she did so beautifully. Constantly engaging, both before and after giving up her voice to the malicious sea witch Ursula, played by tenacious Taiya Forton, Richardson quickly established herself as a triple threat with her impressive vocals, endearing acting, and graceful physicality. Austin Mills as Sebastian easily earns triple threat status as well through his tender deliverance of Kiss the Girl, his energetic dancing, and his consistent accent. Richardson's romantic counterpart Prince Eric, played by Grant Baudendistel, matched her energy well, keeping the romance alive with a swoon worthy performance of One Step Closer.

Ariel's best friend and loyal sidekick Flounder, played by Callie Schwartz, apart from being simply delightful on stage also harbored very impressive vocals, put on display in the stupendous number "She's In Love." This song was brought to life, not only by Schwartz but the accompanying ensemble of The Daughters of Triton. These characters, despite limited stage time, absolutely shone, playing off of each other brilliantly, especially Lydia Horn as Aquata and Kendall Eversole as Atina. DJ Drees also created quite a legacy for himself through the absurd role of Chef Louis, despite only portraying him twice. His comedic chemistry with Austin Mills was superb and left the audience howling with laughter.

Given the obscure setting of this show, tech absolutely had their claws full, but they handled themselves wonderfully. With innovative screen projections by Abbigail Dunigan, impressive choreography - including a tap number - by Anne-Marie Lusk, Malayna Pope, and Austin Mills; and not one but two moving boat structures constructed almost entirely by Israel Saldivar, and so, so much more, crew really blew this show out of the water.

Alyssa Hartman's notable contributions with Marketing and Publicity should also be recognized, working with her crew to establish all the logo merchandise and even partnering with the Best Day Ever Foundation to create memorial benches for lost students out of collected plastic bottle caps. Greyson Johns and Claire Lusk in Stage Management also handled themselves quite professionally, attending meetings every two weeks to stay updated with the needs of the show, amongst their many other responsibilities. And of course, what would life Under the Sea be without its hot crustacean band? Accompanied by six students from Ryle High School, the almost entirely teenage orchestra added a lovely final layer to the show's success.

As you can see, The Little Mermaid at Cooper High School was sincerely an immersive and exciting production that made everyone a part of their world.

Prince Eric (Grant Baudendistel) looks out over the sea with Grimsby (Cassidy Mahoney) and sailors looking on. Photo courtesy of Jackson LaCroix.

Review by Loretta Rubin, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

Venture under the sea into a compelling story of love and magic with Randall K. Cooper High School's heartwarming production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.

Originally premiering as an animated movie in 1989, Disney's The Little Mermaid is a loose, musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairytale. The story highlights Ariel, an inquisitive, but naive mermaid with a talent for music, who falls in love with the human Prince Eric. Due to the forbidden nature of her infatuation, she makes a deal with the malicious sea witch Ursula. In exchange for Ariel's voice, Ursula transforms her into a human, but for Ariel to remain that way, she must share true love's kiss with Eric before the sun sets on the third evening. If she is unable to accomplish this task, Ariel will be bound in servitude to Ursula for eternity. This inspiring tale explores themes of identity, family, and the meaning of love.

Randall K. Cooper High School imbued an authentic spirit into the production, spotlighting the emotional core of the musical. Not only did the cast pull at your heartstrings, but they gave the audience an unforgettably delightful experience. The cast, crew, and orchestra worked together cohesively to produce a spectacle of pure joy.

Hannah Richardson played Ariel with charming innocence and put her full heart into her performance, which showed the love and understanding she had for the character. With beautiful intonation and a voice as sweet as honey, she sang her soul into every song. Grant Baudendistel as Prince Eric showed the full extent of his vocal prowess to the world when his rich tones reached the ears of the audience in a glorious display of talent.

Austin Mills did the character of Sebastian justice with his well-executed comedic timing and engaging physicality. In the role of Ursula, Taiya Forton reveled in the deviousness of the iconic character, and her gorgeous voice added an extra dimension to her performance. DJ Drees incited raucous laughter with his performance of "Les Poissons" and Anne-Marie Lusk as Scuttle thrilled the audience with an incredible tap number. Flounder, as portrayed by Callie Schwartz, brought an amazing take on the role and stunned the crowd with her vocal talent during "She's in Love."

The curtain opened on a beautifully intricate sailing vessel, designed by Israel Saldivar and crew that transformed into a smaller rowboat later in the show for the musical number "Kiss the Girl." This set piece was one of many that set the tone for the show. Gorgeous special effects by Abbigail Dunigan brought the musical to life with stunning projections. Hair and makeup by Albany Fritch, Emma Fredrickson, and crew, was skillfully done, with Ursula's drag-inspired hair makeup look bringing an extra dimension to the character. Complete with a talented live orchestra, this production was a dazzling technical exhibition.

An ocean of fun, Randall K. Cooper High School's The Little Mermaid is an amazingly executed production that leaves you with the question: How will you find your voice?

Ariel (Hannah Richardson), Sebastian (Austin Mills), and Flounder (Callie Schwartz) lead the group “under the sea.”Photo courtesy of Jackson LaCroix.

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"Israel Saldivar and Bradlee Reed-Whalen's immersive set and lighting design transported the audience into this underwater adventure. An especially remarkable technical aspect was the hair and make-up done by Albany Fritsch <cq> and Emma Fredrickson. The intricate hairstyles of characters like Flotsam and Jetsam, in addition to the stark, evil make-up of Ursula, accentuated their evil nature and added another layer of charm to the overall production."

-Piper Chatman, Taylor High School Critic Team

"Anne-Marie Lusk , as Scuttle, and DJ Drees, as Chef Louis, also brought laughter to the audience whenever they were on the stage. With Lusk's "Positoovity" tap routine and Drees' performance of "Les Poissons" (and its reprise), the two brought the term "controlled chaos" to reality."

-Elizabeth O'Neill, Loveland High School Critic Team

"As Ursula, Taiya Forton literally and figuratively stole the show with her incredible vocals and Wicked Witch of the West-esque portrayal of the almost-heir of the throne. Her singing in both "Poor Unfortunate Souls" and "Daddy's Little Angel" were enough to blow anyone who opposed her out of the water."

-Brando Donaldson, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

"The ensemble had excellent voices and vigor. One impressive element of the show was its unique choreographic challenges. The original Broadway performances had most of the cast on rollerblade-like 'merblades.' Cooper's show replicated this by having the sea creatures wear Heelys. This core design decision led to some particularly impressive sequences, like the chaotic chase during "Les Poissons (Reprise)"and the classic 'Under the Sea.'"

-Lee Garber-Ford, Taylor High School Critic Team

"Cooper's production contained bold, colorful makeup looks, a nice balance between backdrop projections and lighting, and lively musical numbers, with beautifully balanced harmonies, choreography which told a story, and an orchestra that created a magical environment."

-Zoe Nienaber, Roger Bacon High School

"From the moment Ariel, played by Hannah Richardson, first glided in (literally), she established a presence that showed her confidence on the stage and in her role. Her big facial expressions and graceful physicality made her fun to watch, even when she wasn't speaking."

-Camryn Smith, Ryle High School Critic Team

"The crews of this production worked tirelessly to give the impression that the actors were under the sea. The lighting, done by Bradlee Reed-Whalen, moved the story along through the blue lights when they were in the ocean, warm hues when Ariel was on the beach, and during "If Only" with minimalist lighting. The mostly student orchestra, Hot Crustacean Band, was another highlight of this production. The beautiful music captivated attention and brought a new kind of energy to the musical."

-Jackie Nichols, Mercy McAuley High School Critic Team

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