By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
In addition to its regular community theater offerings, Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove offers educational youth theater programs and productions to bring the next generation of actors and audiences into the fold. “The Little Mermaid, Jr.” is one of a series of children’s theater standards that has been condensed from its original format to facilitate and maximize the opportunities for kids to get involved. While these plays do, inevitably, lose something in translation, they are still a great vehicle to serve as an introduction to acting and stagecraft for children.
Because of an error on a third-party website, we missed the first 45 minutes of the show, and we apologize if we inadvertently slight some performers. When we walked in almost half-way through the show, we were struck by the fact that we were lucky to find two empty seats (and these were near the back of the theater) – the audience turnout was spectacular, and the cast’s enthusiast performance was matched by the audience’s equally enthusiastic response.
The cast is simply huge – by our count, almost 60, all young people (some of them very young, indeed!). This could have led to utter chaos, but instead (thanks to director Jeanna Van Dyke and her able crew) the audience is treated to finely controlled chaos (think Keystone Kops) as small schools of children (pun intended) swim, skate, glide, and pound the boards of the stage and aisles. Especially riveting is the number where a manic herd of tiny sous chefs pursue Sebastian (David Van Dyke), knives flailing, in their efforts to include a touch of crab in the evening’s repast. Evan Tait delivers a strong and menacing performance as Chef Louis, as well as tackling the key role of King Triton. As the Little Mermaid herself, Ariel, is silent for most of the latter part of the show, we weren’t able to hear much of Emily Upton’s voice. However, what we heard was lovely, and she does a great job of wordlessly expressing herself, especially in the scenes with Prince Eric (Avery Cackler). Tiare Zijdemans (as King Triton’s sister, the evil sea witch Ursula) is in full voice throughout, and her strong and strident vocals effectively convey her character. Both Ian Romig (Grimsby) and David Van Dyke (Sebastian) are audience favorites who put a lot of hard work and energy into creating their comic roles.
Special recognition is definitely due the costume crew, who have done a great job assembling the myriad costumes required by a cast of mermaids, fish, crustaceans, roller-skating electric eels, seagulls, and other assorted creatures of land, sea, and air. The sets are attractive and effective, simple enough not to interfere with the cast members as they maneuvered around the stage with legs, fins, feet, and boats. The sound is handled well for principal characters, all of whom are audible and clear – and the choral numbers, many utilizing the entire cast, provide some of the show’s best moments.
“The Little Mermaid, Jr.” runs through Sunday, January 27th at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove. www.theatreinthegrove.org