Hello my friends!! I have a special treat for you today!
I was invited by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago to attend a performance of “The Little Mermaid” to review for WDW Fan Zone!
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is located in downtown Chicago at Navy Pier, which is one of the major tourist attractions in the city.
We arrived just about 30 minutes before the 11am performance. We were warmly greeted by the staff, most of whom were wearing either Ariel tiaras or squid hats! They were really enjoying themselves. There was a small stand located as you walked in the lobby that sold some souviners, such as squid hats, Ariel tiaras, shirts, pens, as well as small snacks for during the performance. Everything was fairly reasonable priced, we purchased Princess Kayla both the tiara and squid hat for $12!
As we walked into the theater, we immediately through it was beautiful, with the high ceilings and 4 levels of seating, as well as cozy, as the stage came into the audience on the lower level, giving you that feeling of a theater in the round! It is laid out in the same manner that the theaters were when Shakespeare performed his plays, where the stage came out into the middle of the audience, immersing them into the story. Throughout the performance, the actors also made use of the stairways throughout the audience, which caused a few unexpected suprises! There was music playing in the background – you could hear seagulls, the ocean waves, as well as occasional drumming. I asked my mom and Princess Kayla for their immediate thoughts of the theater: Princess Kayla thought it was “nice, beautiful, sparkly, and pa-pow!” My mom said it was “very unique” The show we attended was a sold out show, as many of the shows have been. I would highly recommend that if you are planning on seeing this show to reserve your tickets as soon as possible!
The performance itself was wonderful! It ran just a little over 75 minutes, with no intermission. Our heroine Ariel, Rachel Eskenazi-Gold, makes a very dramatic entrance from the waves of the sea!
There were very minimal sets, as the show changed between scenes very quickly, the few set pieces that were used were very small and easy to be moved off stage. We loved the use of puppetry for various songs throughout the performance, as it enhanced the few characters on stage.
Flounder, the guppie fish, is portrayed by a young man named Matthew Uzarraga, who drew my attention with his Mohawk and skate shoes! I found every time he was onstage, I loved to watch him. For a young actor, he was very talented and had wonderful charisma and stage presence!
Joseph Anthony Byrd performs as Sebastian, Ariel’s loyal “crabby” companion. Matthew Jones is King Triton, Ariel’s father and ruler of the Sea! Mark David Kaplan is Grimbsy, Prince Eric’s servant. Ursula the sea witch is the talented Rebecca Finnegan. The entire cast was incredible!
The storyline follows a condensed version of what many are familiar with – Ariel discovers Prince Eric out in the sea and wants to learn more about him and how it would be to live on land. She rescues him from a storm and returns him to the beach, where he awakes hearing a voice singing to him, but he cannot see anyone around him, so he sets out on a mission with Grimbsy to find the mysterious voice! Flounder and Scuttle help Ariel collect treasures lost in the sea from the human world, which are discovered by King Triton. Her father tells her she is forbidden to interact with humans, because they killed her mother many years ago. Ariel makes a deal with Ursula the sea witch by giving her the most precious thing she has, her own voice, to be able to be human and make Eric fall in love with her. Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle all try to help Ariel and Eric fall in love, but are challenged along the way by Ursula and her eels. Finally, true love prevails and Ariel defeats Ursula, regains her voice, and she and Eric are married and live happily ever after.
One of the quotes that I had to jot down during the show was something that Ariel said…
” What if home is not the place you were born…
but a place you have to discover for yourself?”
…I found this quote to be very profound, especially as Ariel is a teenager and trying to find out who she is and where she belongs. (On a personal note, this stuck very close to my heart, as I am struggling myself to find where home is. )
We found the performance to be incredible, there were a few new songs added in, including “She’s In Love” sung by Ariel’s sisters and Flounder, as well as a great soft shoe number performed by Scuttle and his friends that will leave your tappin’ your feet!
Two of the most famous songs from the Disney movie were included – “Under the Sea” and “Kiss The Girl” (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater). I had jotted down a few notes during the show and for these 2 numbers I simply put “AMAZING!” Words can not describe how beautiful these songs were put into a stage show number.
I would recommend this show to anyone who loves The Little Mermaid or is a Disney fan! The show will pull at your heartstrings with it’s powerful messages! I teared up a few moments during the show and kept getting asked “why are you crying?” I was overwhelmed by the performance, and growing up The Little Mermaid was one of my favorite Disney movies, so to see it performed by an amazing cast just made me so happy!
Be sure to hang around for a few minutes after the performance is over, as some of the cast members will sign autographs and take photographs with the audience! The cast may vary, on the day we visited, two of Ariel’s sisters as well as Scuttle were doing meet and greets! We also happened to have a brief visit with Prince Eric as well (sans costume) and he was very pleasant and had wonderful comments to us about Princess Kayla and some suggestions if she wanted to pursue acting.
All Chicago Shakespeare Theatre patrons receive a 40% discount on parking, which was a really great benefit! Our parking ticket was about $13, which also allowed us to visit the rest of Navy Pier for the afternoon, as there is no time limit on when you need to exit after the performance.
After our performance, there was also an arts and craft activity for children, presented by The Chicago Children’s Museum, also located at Navy Pier. Children were able to make mobiles of a boat with sea creatures dangling beneath. This looks to be available Thursdays and Fridays between performances, with various different crafts.
I also want to point out that inside your program, there is a great insert for children (or the young at heart) that gives a little more information on theater and well as sea creatures, and some fun activities and discussion ideas! I really enjoyed this bonus feature, as many programs do not include this type of material. I found that this was very informative to Princess Kayla as she is starting to want to learn more about theater and performing.
I had the pleasure of asking some of the cast members a few questions via e-mail and they were happy to share their responses with our WDW Fan Zone readers!
Rachel Eskenazi-Gold, Ariel
- What was your favorite Disney movie growing up?
I lived on Disney movies growing up, but the ones I had on repeat the most were probably Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Little Mermaid. My favorites now are Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- Are you a Disney fan? If so, what do you enjoy the most—the theme Parks, movies, characters? What is your favorite Disney villain, Princess, and supporting character in a feature film?
I am a Disney fan all around! I love the movies and all of the music. But I grew up getting to go to the parks because my Dad used to build the rides…So nothing beats that magic!
I’m not sure who my favorite Disney villain is, but “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is by far the best villain song ever written! So there’s that. And favorite princess is a totally unfair question—I couldn’t possibly choose! My favorite supporting character is probably the Genie from Aladdin.
- Did you ever think you would portray a Disney Princess?
I’ve wanted to be a Disney Princess since the time I could comprehend what that was! One of my life long dreams has been to voice a Disney Princess, and playing one is a very close second J. I used to sit on the floor, in front of the VCR, and just listen to each song, and when it was done, I would stand up, rewind and play it again until I could sing along with every word! I got to play Belle in high school and Ariel is the first Princess I’ve gotten to play out of school. And I hope to do it again soon!
- There are a few moments throughout the performance where some “magical” moments happen and you get to “swim” around the stage. What is that experience like? I’m sure you had to have a lot of trust in your stage crew and no fear of heights?
It’s so much fun! I’ve never been “swum” before, and to tell you the truth, I’ve always hated being picked up. But this show has made me face my fear in the best possible way! Before we knew what the limitations of the costume were going to be, I learned how to flip, both backwards and forwards! That was terrifying and I can’t imagine being able to do that while singing, so I’m glad it turned out to be what it is now. To be honest, most of my energy goes into singing and trying to keep myself facing the audience, so I really don’t have time to be scared! Which is great for me!
- Ariel’s friend Flounder is a supporting character throughout the show. What is it like working with a younger performer?
Matthew is absolutely terrific, always right there with me onstage and every performance is a little different, so you know he’s listening! One of the most professional young performers I’ve met. Matthew has real skills and real talent that won’t be grown out of! I don’t really even think of him as a young performer.
- Have you always been interested in live theater? What kind of acting background do you have?
Always. I’ve known that this is what I want to do since it was possible to do it. I had a brief moment when I was trying to decide whether to continue on an acting career, or try to become a composer instead, but I have since decided that I’ll do both J. I started doing musical theatre when I was in first grade and started studying voice when I was twelve. I’m classically trained in both voice and acting. I went to Interlochen Center for the Arts for 7 summers and then did a year at the Academy, where I was a theatre major. I then went to the University of Michigan, where I was a Musical Theatre major. I also got the chance to study abroad in London, at BADA, where I studied acting. I love doing musical theatre, but can’t wait for the chance to do straight plays and film work as well!
Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sebastian
- When you first heard about The Little Mermaid production coming to The Chicago Shakespeare Theater, what did you think? Did you have a certain character in mind that you wanted to perform as?
When I learned that Chicago Shakespeare was doing Disney’s The Little Mermaid I immediately thought “I want to be Sebastian”! TLM was my favorite Disney movie growing up and the fact that there was an opportunity to possibly be a part of it in another medium was so exciting!
- What is your favorite song in the production to perform? We loved ‘Under the Sea’, as it made use of a small ensemble cast but also puppets and lighting that enhanced the song, making it seem larger than life like in the film.
I love ‘Under The Sea’ too! Rachel Rockwell’s staging of that number is nothing short of SPECTACULAR!!!! That song as well as ‘Kiss The Girl’ are my favorite songs to sing. There’s is something special that happens when the entire cast is onstage together working to create MAGIC!!
- How difficult was it to portray a small crab on a large theater stage? Did you get to make any suggestions while your costume was being designed?
Portraying Sebastian has been quite rewarding! Although he is a small creature he has a HUGE heart and TONS of passion! Costume designer Theresa Ham and wig and make-up designer Melissa Veal were able to capture all of it through their work and then some…Sebastian is WHIMSICALLY STUNNING! All I had to do was put the thing on!
- What advice would you recommend to anyone who is interested in pursuing a hobby or career in live theater?
For any and all looking to pursue Live Theatre I say to you always come from a place of love. There will be times that you will be discouraged but “no matter how your heart is grieving if you keep on believing the dream that you wish WILL come true”! Dream and love y’all!
Mark David Kaplan, Grimsby
- We enjoyed your portrayal of Grimsby in The Little Mermaid. How did it feel to bring that character to life and in a larger role than in the film version many of our WDW FanZone readers know?
Well first off—thank you for the compliment! I am very proud to be a part of this production, the story-telling, and the theatre magic. What a great group of artists and friends. I’ve experienced bringing other characters to life on stage who were originally written for films. Certainly it’s very freeing, giving more than just a two-dimensional voice to the role. Disney was very adept at allowing the voice over talents of both Ben Wright (Grimsby in the film) and Rowan Atkinson (Zazu in The Lion King) to inform the personality and journey of those characters. When all is said and done, Grimsby stands as a father figure to Eric. And—on land or sea—this story is really about relationships and family. Grimsby gets a chance, I hope, to be more of a catalyst here in moving the story forward. I think he gets to share what HE wants and needs, rather than just make pithy comments and asides. Everything he says and does in our production refers to his concern for Prince Eric’s future. On the way, he learns to understand who Eric truly is, what he wants and whom he loves. Soon Grimsby wants those things…and grows to love Ariel as well. Just like a parent! I love getting to experience that, everyday!
- When did you begin acting as a career? What are some of the shows you have been in?
I began acting on stage at a fairly young age. Both my siblings are also professional actors and my parents are musicians and teachers, so I suppose we caught the acting bug naturally! My sisters and I were involved in summer theatre productions on the campus of a local university (in Western Pennsylvania), and my dad would often play trumpet in the pit-orchestra. I played The Artful Dodger in Oliver! and danced in Carousel as a youth. It was a family affair.
Regarding other shows I’ve done over the past 2 + decades, there are dozens, so I’ll highlight a few favorites: Tateh in Ragtime and Thenardier in Les Miserables were both real gifts. As well I’ve worked in a show called Forbidden Broadway, which happily parodies Broadway shows, on and off since 1995. I’ve gotten to perform it in NYC, as well as nationally and internationally, from Japan to Singapore to Australia—awesome! And I must mention touring the US and Canada as Zazu in The Lion King. I mean come on—a job that takes you just about everywhere.. How lucky am I??
- Who is your favorite Disney villain, and how do you think they compare to Ursula?
I’m a big fan of the classic Disney meanies—Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the Queen/Witch in Snow White are both cunning and so selfish—just irresistible. And Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians is so darn funny and goofy, so when she turns on us, it’s such a great switch! Not to note merely the femme fatales, I must mention Scar in The Lion King—so smart and psychopathic, yet so defeated physically. And then I got to engage in the clever word-play alongside him—onstage—for almost 5 years. So I grew to ‘love’ him! Thanks for the questions, and for your interest in The Little Mermaid!! All the best to you!! Mark
You can keep up with The Little Mermaid on social media using the following hashtag #cstMERMAID
Joint the cast of CST in this amazing preview video!
(Video courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
Official Press release:
Chicago—June 11, 2015—Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) continues its summer tradition of bringing exceptional family entertainment to Navy Pier with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a Broadway musical adaptation of the beloved film, staged by Jeff Award-winning director and choreographer Rachel Rockwell. Children and adults alike will delight in the dazzling production and unforgettable music as the spunky mermaid Ariel goes on an adventure, finding true love—and her voice. Rockwell and CST Creative Producer Rick Boynton have collaborated to bring this new 75-minute production for family audiences to the Courtyard Theater, July 3–August 16, 2015. Every performance features opportunities for audiences to interact with the actors for one-on-one conversations and photos in the Lobby.
Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the musical follows Ariel, a young mermaid that longs for a life beyond the sea. Over the course of her adventure, she defies her father King Triton, makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula and ultimately finds her home on land and happiness with the handsome Prince Eric. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, Disney’s The Little Mermaid features favorite songs including “Part of Your World,” “Kiss The Girl” and the Academy Award-winning “Under The Sea.”
Celebrated Chicago musical theater director Rachel Rockwell returns to Chicago Shakespeare to stage her fourth summer family musical. In addition to directing Shrek (2013) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2012), Rockwell has directed CST-commissioned world premiere musicals The Adventures of Pinocchio (2011) and The Emperor’s New Clothes (2010). Rockwell’s Chicago-area directing and choreography credits include Jeff Award-winning productions at The Marriott Theatre, The Goodman and Drury Lane Oakbrook, where Rockwell garnered a Jeff Award for Best Director for Ragtime. Rockwell returns to CST in the fall to direct and choreograph the offbeat new musical, Ride The Cyclone.
In her Chicago Shakespeare debut, Rachel Eskenazi-Gold performs the role of Ariel, the independent and determined mermaid who yearns to be a part of the world beyond the sea. Three-time Jeff Award winner Rebecca Finnegan portrays Ursula, the sea witch who plots to steal Ariel’s voice. Matthew Jones plays Ariel’s father and ruler of the Sea—King Triton. Brandon Springman takes on the role of Prince Eric, Ariel’s handsome and brave love interest. Ariel’s loyal companions are Sebastian, played by Joseph Anthony Byrd and Flounder, played by Matthew Uzarraga whose previous CST credits include Young Shrek and Baby Bear in Shrek The Musical. Returning for his fifth CST production, Jeff Award-winner Mark David Kaplan takes the stage as Prince Eric’s servant and confidant Grimbsy, while Matthew Crowle plays Ariel’s loveably eccentric seagull friend, Scuttle. Ursula’s eel minions are portrayed by Adam Fane (Jetsam), who appeared in CST’s productions of Gypsy and Shrek The Musical, and Sean Blake (Flotsam), who has also been seen in Aladdin and Timon of Athens. King Triton’s other daughters, the Mersisters, are played by Missy Aguilar, Allyson Graves, Hanah Rose Nardone and Erica Stephan. The cast also includes ensemble members Este’Fan Kizer, Peter Scharbrough and Steven Spanopoulos.
The production’s team features Music Director Roberta Duchak, Associate Music Director Valerie Maze and Doug Peck, who is coordinating orchestration for the live 4-piece music ensemble. Scenic Designer Scott Davis returns to Chicago Shakespeare after designing recent productions of Road Show, Othello: The Remix and Pericles. Also returning to CST is Costume Designer Theresa Ham who has created the imaginative costumes for Seussical, Shrek the Musical and Beauty and the Beast. Lighting Designer Yael Lubetzky, Projection Designer Shawn Sagady and Puppet Designer Chelsea Warren will transform the Courtyard Theater stage into an underwater wonderland. Four-time Jeff Award-winning Sound Designer Josh Horvath returns after designing As You Like It (2011) and Follies. CST’s resident Jeff Award-winning Wig and Make-up Designer Melissa Veal, who has designed over seventy-five productions at Chicago Shakespeare, completes the creative team.
This 75-minute production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid is best enjoyed by ages 5 and up and will be performed July 3–August 16 in CST’s Courtyard Theater. Tickets are $22-$34 with special discounts available for groups of 10 or more. All patrons receive a 40% parking discount at Navy Pier garages. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600.
A special THANK YOU again to The Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Alida Szabo, and Hannah Kennedy, for inviting WDW Fan Zone to attend this performance to review. All opinions expressed are those of the author. Official photos and videos used with permission by Chicago Shakespeare Theater for this article.
Thanks for taking time to visit me in the Zone today! I hope you have a magical day!
You can reach Jamie@wdwfanzone.com
Keep up with Jamie on Twitter @jrobbins79 as she counts down to her upcoming Disney trip in less than 2 weeks!