HOOLIGAN Theatre Company’s production of “The Little Mermaid” will take place both under the sea and under the stars.
Recreating the Broadway rendition of the famous children’s tale, HOOLIGAN will perform the show – along with its classic Alan Menken score – Thursday to Saturday at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center Amphitheater. The cast, led by vocal coaches, used a variety of strategies to strengthen their vocal performances, project their voices in the outdoors and give depth to Ariel and other characters.
Sylvia Camacho, a first-year English student who plays Ariel in the show, said some of her earliest memories come from her experiences singing in a church choir. Camacho never formally took vocal lessons; however, singing has always been a part of her life, making her in some ways similar to Ariel, the mermaid princess whose voice is the driving force in the musical’s plot.
Although Camacho said she did not completely agree with all of Ariel’s choices, especially the one to give up her voice for a man, she identified with how important Ariel’s voice was to her life. She and Ariel have a similar love for music, which Camacho said helped her connect more with the character.
“Singing is a huge part of Ariel’s identity which is intimidating, but also nice because singing is my strong suit,” Camacho said.
A large part of the musical revolves around vibrant scores that push the story forward and lend insight into the characters’ minds, said James Hackett-Little, a fourth-year sociology student and the director of “The Little Mermaid.”
“If Only,” a quartet from the show’s Broadway version, particularly reflects the motivations of multiple characters, Hackett-Little said. When Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton perform the song near the end of the musical, the audience learns of each of the characters’ inner monologues through song. The lyrics show how Ariel longs to be part of the human community, Prince Eric wants to be with the girl who saved his life, Sebastian strives to be the best guardian possible and King Triton wishes to be more understanding of Ariel’s fantasies.
“We have worked heavily with the cast to make sure that the emotions in the songs are being conveyed as true as possible to the characters,” Hackett-Little said. “We’ve been analyzing the songs stanza by stanza to look at the words and make sure we know what they mean to the characters.”
To ensure each of the musical pieces reflect strong vocal technique, the vocal directors and assistant vocal directors worked closely with the cast to practice the ensemble songs, said Jenna Carroll, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and one of the assistant vocal directors. The songs were fine-tuned on their own before the cast combined them with choreography and acting, Carroll said.
During the first several vocal rehearsals, the assistant vocal directors split up performers with the same parts so they could practice separately before bringing the whole ensemble together, Carroll said. The method, known as sectionals, helped ingrain the parts in everyone’s heads. Since several of the songs require a lot of background singing to accompany the main melody, Carroll said the ensemble had to first get very well-acquainted with their parts before joining all the harmonies together with the melody.
Because so many cast members grew up with the songs, it was often a challenge to solidify the distinct parts into a cohesive final product, Carroll said. For example, “Kiss the Girl,” one of the most collaborative pieces of the show, required cast members to combine eight different parts. Since cast members were naturally inclined from their childhoods to sing the dominant melody, the song took several sectional practices to become strong enough for the choreography and acting layers.
The vocals for the show also had to be strong enough to withstand an outdoor performance. The cast had to consider additional factors, such as weather, which could affect proper projection of voice. The team also had to make sure they had enough microphones to carry the voices and compensate for the lack of acoustics, Carroll said.
Although the outdoor show has been more difficult to prepare for, Camacho said it taught her and fellow cast members to take greater care of themselves. Camacho has been tending to her voice and treating it with extra caution, knowing the outdoor production will require extra vocal projection, she said. The cast members are planning to keep humidifiers backstage to make sure they are prepared for the increased vocal exertion.
However, although the show is merging multiple performative elements to give the story depth, Camacho said it will still highlight the beloved score that makes “The Little Mermaid” a timeless classic.
“I feel like the elements are coming together now and the story is coming to life,” Camacho said.