‘The Little Mermaid’ ready to roll

Published 11:09 am Friday, February 26, 2016

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

A toolbox of tricks creates the illusion Southwestern Michigan College’s spring musical, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” takes place under water.

Besides two new special H20 LED lights, Director Paul Mow assembled an arsenal that includes roller-skating eels, mermaids darting in Heelys and a towering squid for which Ursula the sea witch (Jasmine Ehlert of Sawyer and Lauren Kunkel of St. Joseph) propels a modified motorized wheelchair by foot pedal.

Special effects team with a ton of talent provided by SMC students and eight area high schools, with eight performers double cast in four lead roles of the 39-member cast costumer Julie Smiy must outfit.

That includes two Ariels, Maddie Schrock, who appeared in “Into the Woods” and “Oklahoma,” and Mariah Rifenberg, both from St. Joseph.

“This theatre had no LED lights. They’re lower wattage than old-school bulbs, which cost considerably more every minute they’re on,” Mow said two weeks before opening night. “We just got them in yesterday, so we’re still experimenting.”

Anxiously awaited Feb. 19 was arrival of the rented 40-foot by 20-foot backdrop which resembles “The Wizard of Oz’s” Emerald City nestled in the sand of SpongeBob SquarePants’ Bikini Bottom.

“We painted the rest of the drops ourselves,” Mow said.

Heelys, patented in 1999, are a brand of roller shoes with wheels embedded in the soles, allowing wearers to walk, run or, by shifting their weight to their heels, roll.

Braking is accomplished by dropping the back of the foot.

Heelys help performers look like they’re swimming, though eels Flotsam and Jetsam, on actual roller skates, zip in and out of squid tentacles in lighted green body suits like blurry Krusty Krab carhops.

Jennifer Schaus skates effortlessly, since she grew up around her father Harold’s Ramona Roller Rink at Sister Lakes.

Matching her stride for stride is Dowagiac Union High School junior Sara Wright, juggling SMC’s musical with DUHS’ “Mary Poppins.”

“Heelys are good for the mermaids because they have a lot of dancing,” said Schaus, displaying the same tandem timing with Wright as she and Katie Preston showed as stepsisters in “Into the Woods.”

“Paul’s really hard on us, but he puts on great shows,” Schaus said. “It’s worth it. I like (double casting) because you see how one person interprets a character versus the way another does.”

SMC presents “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 6, at 2 p.m.; Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 13, at 2 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased from the box office at 800-456-8675, ext. 1280, or online at swmich.edu/boxoffice. Tickets cost $7 general admission, $5 senior citizens and is free to SMC students with ID and those under 18.