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Under the sea: The Little Mermaid is DLHS fall musical

In an early scene from "The Little Mermaid," Flounder (Dawson Grimm, left) and Ariel (Kalyn Willson) listen raptly as Scuttle the seagull (Anna Hokanson) explains to them how a "dinglehopper" (actually, a wooden fork) is used to style a woman's hair.1 / 3
Vicki Gerdes/Tribune Mia Martinez as the villainous Ursula the Sea Witch in a scene from "The Little Mermaid," which opens this Thursday, Nov. 3 at Detroit Lakes Middle School's George Simson Auditorium.2 / 3
Vicki Gerdes/Tribune The 'Daughters of Triton' and their musical conductor, Sebastian (Carly Fritz, to the left of the king), serenade King Triton (Ben Blanchard) in an early scene from 'The Little Mermaid,' which opens this Thursday, Nov. 3 at Detroit Lakes Middle School's freshly renovated George Simson Auditorium. The curtain will rise at 7:30 p.m.3 / 3

Though the adventures of King Triton's youngest daughter, Ariel, were first introduced to the world nearly 180 years ago, in the 1837 Danish fairy tale "Den Lille Havfrue," the story of "The Little Mermaid" is one that little girls today still know by heart — thanks in no small part to the magic of Disney.

It is the Walt Disney Co.'s 1989 animated musical feature, and the Broadway musical that it spawned, which serve as the visual and musical inspiration for Detroit Lakes High School's 2016 fall musical, "The Little Mermaid," which opens this Thursday, Nov. 3 at Detroit Lakes Middle School's freshly renovated George Simson Auditorium.

"She (Ariel) always was my favorite Disney princess," says Kalyn Willson, who plays the titular character in the production.

"To be free to be someone you've always dreamed of being... it's a lot of pressure, but it's also a lot of fun," she added. "What girl doesn't want to be Ariel?"

Mia Martinez, for one. The DLHS senior is having entirely too much fun playing the part of the villainous sea witch, Ursula.

"It's really fun to be the villain," says Martinez. "She's really powerful. And some people love you just because you're the bad guy. You don't have to explain or excuse your actions, because you're just evil.

"She's a bad person, but she also knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it. She just gets a little carried away sometimes," Martinez added, tongue in cheek. "She's really powerful."

Ben Blanchard, who plays King Triton, also finds the powerful aspects of his character to be appealing.

"He's just the essence of a truly manly kind of guy," says Blanchard. "Everything about him is so regal and kingly. When I'm out of costume I'm a fun loving, kind of silly guy, but when I put on his costume I'm this regal, powerful person. It's fun to change who you are, even if it's only for a few shows."

At the same time, Blanchard says, just like any other single dad, Triton struggles to juggle his duties as a king with his role as a father.

"Sometimes, one of those duties will take over the other, and he's always got to keep that in check," he added — which is what makes it easier for the audience to empathize with him.

Meanwhile, Dawson Grimm, who plays Flounder, says he enjoys portraying the character because "he's very relatable. I could totally be Flounder — I am Flounder, in a way.

"He's an angsty teenage sort of fish that's deep-in-the-ocean in love with Ariel," Grimm added. "His affections are not returned, but he'll keep trying. And he's just so bubbly, and gutsy."

Flounder's "rival" for Ariel's affections, Prince Eric, is portrayed by Isaac Eggebraaten, who says he enjoys the character's duality.

"He's a very adventurous prince, very rebellious toward his guardian, but very likable at the same time," Fritz says. "He likes to take life by the horns — of the fins, as the case may be.

"He doesn't want to be king, he wants to be a sailor," Eggebraaten said.

But as soon as he meets Ariel, Eric's tender, romantic, protective side begins to emerge.

"I like to portray both sides — the sea-loving guy, and the romantic," Eggebraaten added. "That's really cool to play out."

The role of Prince Eric's long-suffering guardian, Grimsby, is played by Jacob Hanson.

"It couldn't be more fun for me than to play the guy who supports my best (real-life) friend, Isaac," said Hanson. "As the guardian of Prince Eric, he watches over him and is constantly trying to control his crazy side, to get him to go back and be king. I'm the voice of reason to him."

Grimsby's counterpart in Ariel's life is Sebastian, played to gender-bending perfection by Carly Fritz.

"I'm a girl, so Sebastian is a girl," Fritz says, though she adds that she doesn't see the crab as being overly feminine. "She's constantly trying to get everything under control. She tries to watch over Ariel and be her guardian, but Ariel is a clever mermaid."

And that means that just like the young prince she falls in love with, the teenage mermaid is rebellious: In fact, it is the mermaid's tardiness in showing up for a concert being given by Triton's daughters, in his honor, that prompts the king to entrust the wrangling of Ariel to Sebastian in the first place.

"But your Majesty, she's a clever mermaid! And I'm just a crustacean!" Sebastian wails after the king decrees that she is to serve as Ariel's guardian.

Besides the funny lines, Fritz says her favorite part of playing Sebastian is the crab's energy and creativity, as the conductor of some of the musical's most pivotal moments.

"I think of Sebastian as the mistress of ceremonies for the entire show," says the play's director, Kathy Larson.

"I love singing 'Under the Sea,' and I get to dance a lot," says Fritz. "I can put some movement to what I'm saying, which is super fun."

Fritz said that "Under the Sea" is her favorite scene in "The Little Mermaid," because all the characters are on stage at the same time.

"There's so much to look at, and the costumes are just great!" she exclaimed.

Speaking of which, costume design team member Madalyn Sukke says that the outfitting of this year's cast was one of the most complex projects that she's been involved with since she first started making costumes for the fall musical almost 30 years ago.

Though some of the costumes for this production were rented from Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead, which just did a production of "The Little Mermaid" this past summer, the five-person core design team quickly discovered that many modifications were necessary — because unlike the Trollwood production, their actors and actresses would actually be flying across stage, in harness, during a handful of pivotal scenes.

Not only that, but Detroit Lakes' much larger cast required that dozens of new costumes would need to be created as well.

"For 'Kiss the Girl,' we're staging that number very differently from Trollwood, so there were no (pre-made) costumes for that scene," Sukke said. "We had to create 25 new costumes for that number alone."

Another 30 new costumes were required for "Under the Sea," due to the fact that every single cast member was appearing on stage at the same time, so no sharing of costume pieces was possible.

"We all kind of sit around, talk, bounce ideas off each other and come up with a design for each costume," Sukke said.

Dozens of volunteers are also enlisted to complete all the sewing, assembling, pressing and steaming of costumes necessary to get the actors and actresses ready for opening night.

"And then we have to take into consideration the directors' vision, how they want it to look," Sukke added. "We ended up combining a couple of different ideas to get exactly what they wanted."

Staying within budget is also a consideration, because, as she put it, "It is not inexpensive to do all this."

And even with all that preparation, the finishing touches won't be added until the play's opening night, she said.

"There are so many little details, and a lot of them don't really come together until the very end, so it's always a work in progress until opening night — and then it's a matter of fixing and fitting and repairing and making sure they look good before they go out on stage each night.

"This is probably the most challenging show I've been involved in," she added.

Set designer Hans Gilsdorf agreed, noting that he was involved in "a lot of round tables" with director Kathy Larson, assistant director Mark Everson (who also does the light and sound design for the show), production manager Carol Nustad and design team members Mike Nustad and Chris Heyer, among others.

"We'd sit around and do a lot of discussing and walk-throughs, break it down scene by scene, decide what are the critical set pieces and important moments... then I sat down in my studio and started designing, keeping in mind the amount of space we have." Gilsdorf said, noting that there must be enough room to store each set piece and prop backstage when they're not in use.

"It's a lot of problem solving, a lot of creativity, a lot of great communication," he added. "It's a great collaboration, between construction, set decorating, painting, light and sound... what makes the theater program here so successful is all the volunteers, with their brilliant minds and different skills, coming together to make it all happen."

And it's not just the adult volunteers who put in extra time and effort, says Carol Nustad.

"The students put in tons of work too," she added. "The guys who fly our actors around put in 11-12 extra hours just learning how to put on the harnesses and lift them up (because) they were concerned about the safety of their fellow students.

"It's been fun to see the kids getting so happy and excited about this show."

Six performances of "The Little Mermaid" are planned, with opening night set for this Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, Thursday, nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 12, along with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 6. Tickets are $10, and may be purchased in advance at Central Market or at the door on the night of the performance. All performances take place at the George Simson Auditorium inside Detroit Lakes Middle School, located at 500 11th Ave. in Detroit Lakes.

'The Little Mermaid' Cast

(In order of appearance)

Ariel: Kalyn Willson

Pilot: Isaiah McKenzie

Prince Eric: Isaac Eggebraaten

Grimsby: Jacob Hanson

Flounder: Dawson Grimm

Scuttle: Anna Hokanson

King Triton: Ben Blanchard

Windward: Blake McAllister

Leeward: Dyson Mois

Sebastian: Carly Fritz

Mersisters: Madison Hagen (Aquata), Jasmyn Hamm-Coyne (Andrina), Emily Larson (Arista), Naomi Larson (Atina), Maren Goldstein (Adella), Alex Day (Allana) Merdancers: Mirella Grimm, Kelsie Heyer, Cherish Johnson, Gracee Traurig, Taylor Tucker, Leiana-Lavette Woodard

Mermaids: Eleanor Biederman, Sierra Branson, Anna Cihak, Alexia Fierros, Hannah Hagen, McKenna Krengel, Breanna Price

Flotsam: Caleb McKenzie

Jetsam: Thomas McKenzie

Ursula: Mia Martinez

Gulls: Mirella Grimm, Isaiah McKenzie, Malia McKenzie, Dyson Mois

Chef Louis: Isaiah McKenzie

Sailors: Connor Froke, Spencer Heimark, Eric Kallstrom, Tristan Knopf, Sean Lundeen, Blake McAllister, Kai McLeod, Dyson Mois, Carson Tunheim

Featured Dancers: Chloe Conn, Mirella Grimm, Hannah Hagen, Cherish Johnson, Samantha Maier, Malia McKenzie, Natalie Nelmark, Alexis Stearns, Jade Tolbert, Abbee Traurig, Gracee Traurig, Taylor Tucker, Leiana-Lavette Woodard

Chefs: Connor Froke, Spencer Heimark, Sean Lundeen, Blake McAllister, Kai McLeod, Dyson Mois, Carson Tunheim

Maids: Eleanor Biederman, Sierra Branson, Alex Day, Alexia Fierros, Maren Goldstein, Jasmyn Hamm-Coyne, McKenna Krengel, Emily Larson, Naomi Larson, Breanna Price Princesses: Alex Day, Kelsie Heyer, Madison Hagen, Jasmyn Hamm-Coyne, Emily Larson, Naomi Larson

Ensemble: Mackenzie Braukmann, Kennedy Bridgeman, Samantha Collins, Natalie Eidenschink, Grace Friesen, Ava Gilbert, Sydney Goldstein, Annika Gulseth, Tahlia Haas, Gabrielle Heide, Noah Hendrickson, Annie Houglum, Annika Hughes, Taylor Johnson, Maycen Kirchner, Abby Larson, Rena McLeod, Demetre Moe, Martha Nustad, Gretta Schulberg, Alex Swanson, Siri Vagle, Conner Willson

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454