August 2, 2008

‘Little Mermaid’ to Be Crash Course in Theater

By Fraser Sherman, Destin Log, Fla.

Aug. 2--Thirty minutes after holding auditions for "The Little Mermaid" Monday morning at South Walton High School, the Missoula Children's Theatre will begin rehearsing the students who won roles in the show.

After four more days of rehearsal, the student actors -- from first through 12th grade -- will put on the musical Saturday night.

"Kids these daysareamazing," Missoula's Scott Reilly told The Log. "We can cast them in a role, say 'go memorize your lines' and they'll be back the next day. They're able to be a sponge and suck in all that information."

Missoula Children's Theatre began in 1970, when founder Jim Caron's van broke down on a cross-country trip, forcing him to stop at Missoula's service station. On a whim, he auditioned for a local production of "Man of La Mancha," won a part and became friends with Don Collins, one of the other actors.

Collins and Caron organized a theater group to perform for children and began touring to other towns in the region. They began casting children in some roles and when a town 500 miles away booked a performance of Snow White, Caron opted to cast children there rather than drive Missoula's children 500 miles across the state. The auditions drew 450 local children, which convinced the directors to do the same thing for other touring shows.

The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation brought the theater to South Walton, Educational Director Leah McGill said, with the financial support of the Merchants of Seaside: "They made this visit possible. We have always wanted to get (Missoula) to do a camp for Mattie Kelly, but they were just a little out of our league."

Reilly said the "team of two" that runs each Missoula tour will bring everything the show needs -- costumes, sets, props -- to South Walton High School, except for the actors. A maximum of 50 to 60 students will be cast.

Reilly said one of the two will perform in the show, the other will direct. Together with the students, "they'll pull off a full-scale musical in one week ... We've kind of got it down to a science."

Reilly said the company's shows are one hour long, written so that kids can learn them with a week of rehearsal.

"The Little Mermaid" isn't the Disney version of the story. A synopsis from the theater company says it has the mermaid princess Celia visiting the surface world on her 16th birthday to learn about it and discovering "ferocious dragons, advancing armies and, of course, a handsome and resourceful Prince Charming."


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