By: Leah Parodi
For one week only, the beloved characters of The Little Mermaid will enchant audiences at the Orpheum Theater in November as part of the 2017/2018 Omaha Performing Arts Broadway season. Words such as spectacular, breathtaking and mesmerizing do not begin to describe just how magical this timeless musical experience is.
The iconic story of Ariel; a beautiful, young mermaid is a classic tale that has been transformed for the musical stage. Set in a vibrant kingdom under the sea, the story is of Ariel’s desire to leave her home to experience the strange, foreign world of humans above the waves. Disobeying her father, King Triton, and following her heart, Ariel and her friends set out to discover the new world complete with a handsome prince, strange customs and an evil villainess with a wicked sense of humor.
Based upon Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name and accompanied by the music of eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, this wonderful Disney Theatrical produced musical is a tale of love, family and friendship and is for all ages. Audiences will fall in love with familiar characters and be swept away by musical showstoppers such as “Under the Sea”, “Part of Your World”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl”. The visual effects, vibrant colors and whimsical stage scenery round out this not-to-be-missed musical.
Starring in the role of Ariel is a multi-talented and beautiful young woman, Diana Huey. Huey has been performing since grade school and has an extensive resume. Huey attended Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she earned a BFA in Theater with an emphasis in the Performing Arts, with honors in 2008. She was then accepted into the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Acting Internship Program for the 2008-2009 season. Her work in the theater includes 5th Avenue Theatre (Seattle), Milwaukee Repertory Theater (Milwaukee), First Stage Children’s Theater (Milwaukee) and New World Stages (New York). Huey is a Helen Hays Award winner for Best Leading Actress for Signature Theater’s Miss Saigon and she was named the BroadwayWorld 2011’s Critic’s Choice Award for “Person to Watch” in Seattle Theater.
Huey is a Seattle based Japanese-American actress and singer who has broken boundaries and stereotypes in her role as Ariel and much like the character she portrays, has shown bravery, strength and compassion when others have not been so kind.
When Huey originally tried out for the role of Ariel, she had no hopes of winning the part due to her ethnicity. “I honestly was just so excited to sing “Part of Your World” with a pianist in front of a captive audience who had to listen to me,” she said. “I remember singing this song as a kid, it is a very special song for me. It makes me sad to think that I was going in for a practice audition, not thinking I would get the job. I shorthanded myself.”
But Huey’s strong performance and talent won her the role of Ariel and she soon found herself on tour. And while she was wowing audiences across the country, some people were hurtful with their comments questioning the decision to cast a Japanese-American as the classic redheaded mermaid.
At first, Huey opted to not read the negative comments, ignoring them. But she found strength learning to believe in herself. “I looked at the way I viewed my situation. I did the same thing to myself by thinking I had no chance of playing Ariel. But now I can create conversation, not be embarrassed and shrug off the hurtful comments. This is not about me but what’s right and what’s wrong. I am standing up for diversity that hurts and hopefully in turn helping others.” Huey has gained an incredible amount of support from her cast and crew, audiences and fans from around the world. “I have had an insane amount of support and I have learned so much about myself, I believe in myself.”
And audiences also believe in her, especially children who meet Huey at the stage door after performances. “These little kids are my everything!” she beamed. “They see me without the costume and the wig and they shout Ariel and run to hug me.” Huey said that it is the reaction of the audience that make her stronger with each performance.
Huey added that the cast of The Little Mermaid as a whole really enjoy the audience’s reaction during each performance. “We stand off to the side during “Les Poissons” when Chef Louis chases Sebastian (Ariel’s crab friend) around the kitchen. It is visual comedy with very clever and complex choreography. We can hear people laughing, especially the kids. Chef Louis gets the biggest laughs of the show and we love it!”
The special effects for this production only add to the strong talent and superb music and lyrics. Ursula, the villainess, has a spectacular costume accented by ingenious lighting. There is masterful puppetry, beautiful bubbles, transformations and an actual swimming, floating Ariel. “As the curtain first rises audiences see Ariel as she is in the ocean,” said Huey. “She is up in the air swimming and I love hearing the audience as they first see her!”
Huey added that The Little Mermaid is a family show, but not a little kid production. “We see so many adults in our audiences and they sing along. There are millennials who grew up with The Little Mermaid, grandparents brining their grandchildren, people on dates. It’s nostalgic for adults. I have met older people at the stage door who tell me they are season ticket holders and were not going to see the show. They tell me how much they loved it and are so glad they came.”
Huey said that while kids love the show for the fun, music and characters, adults will appreciate the added storyline. “We go deeper into the story of why Ariel does not fit in at home, it’s not about a cute boy and thingamabobs. It’s about her self-discovery and finding out who she is. Adults, parents always get a little choked up.”
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is recommended for ages 5 and up. Performance times are Tuesday, November 7 (7:30 PM), Wednesday, November 8 (7:30 PM), Thursday, November 9 (7:30 PM), Friday, November 10 (8:00 PM), Saturday, November 11 (2:00 PM & 8:00 PM) and Sunday, November 12 (1:30 PM & 7:00 PM). Tickets start at $35 and are available at TicketOmaha.com, in person at the Ticket Omaha Box Office located inside the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street in downtown Omaha, or by phone at 402.345.0606. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. For more information: www.TicketOmaha.com