Not your average middle-school production

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By Doug Deuchler

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I knew no one in the large BRAVO production of The Little Mermaid Jr. at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in my neighborhood, yet this was one of the most thrilling, joyous and enjoyable student shows I've ever seen. Grab a kid or two — yours or someone else's — and go enjoy this wonderful version of the beloved Disney animated feature. There are still two performances this weekend on Nov. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. It's really a lot of fun.

Little Mermaid Jr., based on a 19th-century tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is amazing in every way possible. Produced and directed by Tina Reynolds, the show is inventively staged. There are something like 114 students involved in the production. Scores of kids are onstage in nearly every scene, either singing and dancing or manipulating the multitude props and set pieces. 

The stage crew is always busy. There are giant projections, puppets and spellbinding "flying" sequences. Rick Frendt does amazing work projecting the shimmering, watery world of the loveable aquatic characters. The gorgeous costumes are creative and colorful.

The Little Mermaid animated feature came along in 1989 after a long period of lackluster Disney films. This comeback picture is now referred to as "Disney Renaissance."  

The Oscar-winning music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. The musical director of the Brooks' production is Cameron Burgess. The choreographer, Meghan Figel, is assisted by guest choreographer Rachel Caron. The ensemble dancing sequences are lively and energized.   

Lisa Green and Ann Heggens designed and coordinated the huge number of costumes.   

There are two casts of students playing the key roles. Sadly there is not enough room here to name everyone. 

Samantha Green played the title role at the matinee I saw. She was completely charming and adorable, even managing to stay in character while "swimming" through the air, singing in a flying harness.

Ariel, the "Little Mermaid," should be a happy girl. She has lots of friends in her enchanting undersea world where her father (Jordan Lockett) is King of the Sea, and she has a beautiful singing voice. But she is also headstrong, rebellious, and totally fascinated with life up on land. She longs to be human so she can win the heart of Prince Eric (Jack Berleman-Paul), a young human she rescued from a storm at sea. Legless Ariel defies her furious father and makes a pact with an evil octopus named Ursula (Rachel Czuba) to become human and leave her watery world. She gives up her voice to find love.

The cast is great. The students are full of stage presence. The wise red crab, Sebastian, was played by Sydney Germany. Flounder was Ellie Compton and Scuttle the wacky sea gull was Indigo Gordon, who has a terrific tap number with his fellow sea gulls. Thaddeus Schultz played Chef Louis.

Ursula the evil sea witch wears a really creative costume, with her eight octopus tentacles manipulated by Amera Fields, Bridget Lynch, Wami Osikanlu and Lily Watson.

Many cast members wear shoes on skate wheels, which make the characters seem like they are gliding through the water.

Songs such as "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl," and "Part of Your World" are all enjoyable Especially fun is the chorus of mermaids who sing "She's In Love" like one of the girl groups from the 1960s.

If you know of elementary school kids who might want to see what performance opportunities await them in middle school, definitely take them to see Little Mermaid Jr.  It is a truly delightful experience that lifted my spirits on a dark, rain-soaked Saturday. 

Brooks Middle School is located at 325 S. Kenilworth Ave. in Oak Park. Tickets cost $10 or $8 for students and seniors.

Little Mermaid Jr. is a definite crowd-pleaser. It's a huge, enchanting show that's got everything from kids doing cartwheels to tap-dancing sea gulls. What a good time!

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Julie Nilson Chyna  

Posted: November 9th, 2017 5:32 PM

Agreed, Theresa! CAST is performing the musical Big River, based on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, at Julie Middle School: 7:30 on 11/10 and 11/11, and 3:30 on 11/12. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/castbigriver

Theresa Broderick from oak park  

Posted: November 9th, 2017 10:43 AM

I think both middle schools have exceptional Drama programs and having seen both, I feel that Cast is every bit as good as Bravo

Kelly Carson Flemming from Oak Park  

Posted: November 9th, 2017 12:04 AM

We agree that BRAVO! is NEVER your average middle school production. We have tickets to see both casts this weekend! #broadwayinoakpark

Susan Beyersdorf Beach  

Posted: November 8th, 2017 8:07 PM

I couldn't agree more. This production, like the Lion King last year will knock your socks off. It's hard to imagine these are 7th & 8th graders.

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