By Mark A. Leon
Yesterday, the James Island Junior Theater opened the stage to a sell-out crowd for their inaugural performance of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” With a cast of youth actors up to age 18, parents, friends, siblings and loved ones smiled, laughed, and felt complete admiration as these talented and often brave young actors performed 20 scenes of the beloved classic “The Little Mermaid Jr.”. With a constant flow of set changes during this single act performance, I was amazed at the level of talent and discipline of these young aspiring talents.
Scott Pfeiffer, Director and Operating Manager of the Charleston Performing Arts Center grew up surrounded by the arts and found his home early in his career performing youth theater in California. His connection with the live stage and passion for helping to develop the talent of actors at all ages, lends itself to the remarkable achievement this Junior Theater has found.
With a generous team, including Savannah Schoenborn on choreography, Andrea Roule, music director, Kirk Pfeiffer on costumes and wigs, Shawn McIntosh leading scenic construction and painting, Jordan Benton on lighting and Derek Alverson on sound, we were taken to an underwater paradise where 25 humans, mermaids, crustaceans, fish and ocean life led us through a musical journey of love and fantasy. All around the audience of eager fans were blue lights shot to the ceiling creating the illusion of the ocean while on stage painted canvases of teal and green made the transformation complete.
The show was highlighted by a spirited performance from Madelynne Burt as Sebastian with her humorous accent and nervous demeanor. She was charming, energetic and nailed her vocals and dialogue with poise. Lucy Dixon brought an innocence to the stage as Ariel. She had a natural curiosity and awkwardness in her journey to find true love and you can’t help but want to see end up with her prince.
The two primary male leads, Joshua Tolbert as Prince Eric and Leo West as King Triton, were both strong and pronounced. Both characters resided in extremely different places, but find parallels in their place in society with one holding a royal role under and one above the water. Each must tackle a major challenge that tests their souls to find what they truly seek in life. These were two excellent and heartwarming performances.
The remainder of the cast elevated the show with large ensemble musical numbers, keen supporting roles and a natural ability to remove their human skin and become one with their fantasy bigger than life characters.
Live theater is achieved when the collaborative efforts of a group of people both in front and behind the scenes come together in a passionate and cohesive exercise of love. It takes hard work, rehearsal and a vulnerability to take on a character and become the embodiment of them. Only a rare individual with inner strength and confidence to step out in front of hundreds of people and entertain can take on such a position. I witnessed a great deal of talent on that stage and expect to see many of these performers for years to come.
The Charleston Performing Arts Center on James Island is making a selfless commitment to the Charleston area community to harness and shape the future of live performing arts in the Lowcountry. We were honored to be part of the inaugural performance and season.
Including remaining shows for “The Little Mermaid Jr.”, the company will be performing “The Wizard of Oz”, “Peter Pan” and “Hairspray” to usher through this 2017-18 season.