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THE last time we saw Mikayla Williams, was in the lead of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” for Free Rain Theatre and now she’s back to play that quintessential “fish-out-of-water” role, the Little Mermaid.
“This is the light interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen story, that’s tragic but this is happy,” says director David Atfield.
In this Disney fable, scripted by Doug Wright, a feisty young female fish determines to teach those around her a thing or two about life. She’s looking for an equitable relationship with the prince. By contrast, Andersen’s story is a case of impossible love.
“This is a fun show and it doesn’t get too lost in seriousness,” he says.
Atfield is pleased to have Williams in the lead role, saying: “She’s the triple threat, she is a great actor, dancer and singer.”
Williams, for her part, is impressed by Ariel the mermaid (Andersen didn’t give her a name). “She’s something of a hero, she is absolutely different and she saves the day,” she tells “CityNews”.
It’s been a busy two years since last we saw Williams, involving travelling overseas, working with a producer on an album of her own original songs and teaching acting, but she’s happy to be treading the boards again in a show different from the Disney film.
For one thing, she says, the females are very strong in the play, whereas the film highlights Prince Eric (here played by Tim Dal Cortivo) as the strong-man hero. Atfield agrees, saying: “I think the writer of this play wants to give it a feminist age, a young girl is on the cusp of womanhood, breaking the rules.”
“Ariel engages in rebellion, she makes the underwater characters come around to see the goodness in humans and she’s not afraid to stand up to King Triton,” says Williams.
It’s a far cry from Andersen’s subservient mermaid, besotted with love for the prince, wracked with pain on land, where walking feels like treading on knives and silenced by having her tongue cut out. In the play, Ariel saves the prince from drowning but has only to sacrifice her voice to become a woman in a deal set up by Ursula the Sea Witch (Louiza Blomfield). The worst that happens is that she’s initially shaky on her land legs.
Essentially, “The Little Mermaid” is a spectacular piece of theatre, with big musical numbers such as “Under the Sea”, “Kiss the Girl”, and “Part of Your World”, scenes above water and underwater moments, too.
Director Atfield is arguably just as much a fish out of water as Ariel. After all, the award-winning NIDA graduate and former director of Canberra’s famous Company Skylark puppet theatre is best known for non-musical shows, including “Charlotte’s Web”.
Now he’s directing crabs, flounders and seagulls as well as landlubbers, but maintains that much of his job is just theatrical “motivational work”. Although his experience of musicals has hitherto been confined to a youthful star role in a musical about Jack the Ripper, he tells “CityNews,” he comes at it straight.
“I look at the dramatic through-line,” Atfield says, “I think the dialogue is just as important as the song and the dance.
“In musicals, people often approach it with the idea that the dialogue is just what’s in between the songs, but I don’t agree with that.”
Atfield says there are some pretty radical special effects, such as Ariel’s transformation.
“And the undersea work is quite a challenge, especially where we have undersea and earth work simultaneously… what a challenge, but we’ve worked out a lovely way to do it,” he says.
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, Canberra Theatre, April 8-17. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.