Under the Sea: Little Mermaid Jr. sails into Middlebrook School

Who needs land when you have the underwater kingdom of King Triton, his daughter Ariel and his many subjects, including a nervous crab with a Cajun beat named Sebastian? That is the scene for the colorful set created by Wilton Children’s Theater for its presentation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr., on stage at the Middlebrook School auditorium this weekend: Friday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at 4, and Sunday, March 17, at 2.

The musical production includes a cast of more than 50 students singing and dancing to the music of Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.

Cast members include Natalie O’Herron as Ariel, Joe Scarfi as Prince Eric, Liam DeFelice as Sebastian, Jocelyn Dahl as Ursula, Carlos Salguero as King Triton, Alex Stroup as Scuttle, and Julia Rothstein as Flounder.

The show is produced by Wendy LaMantia and Sheila DeFelice, directed by Skip Ploss with special thanks to Ginny Ruggieri, and choreographed by Sandy Ross. The costumes are by Cara Calabrese and Jennifer Dahl, and sets were designed by Andy Knapp with Mark Keough and Kimberly Johnson.

Tickets are $12 and may be purchased Friday, March 15, from noon to 2 at the Village Market, at the door one hour before showtime, and online at wiltonchildrenstheater.org.

The story is based on the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Ariel longs to live on land and makes a deal with the evil Ursula for a pair of legs. Once on land, she finds her prince and sets about to convince him she is the girl with the enchanting voice he has been longing for.

While the story is similar to the popular Disney movie, there are some differences, according to the show’s musical director, Brendan Fox.

“It’s got some songs that were added to the Broadway show that are not in the movie,” he said. She’s in Love is one of the new ones.

As musical director, Mr. Fox said, he is in charge of making sure “everyone is singing the right notes.” But there is much more. “There’s a lot of underscore, music under the scenes. We need to time the dialogue to fit in with the music. That gives it the feel of a big Broadway show.

“It’s kind of fun that way because it’s more spontaneous. It keeps you on your toes.”

Mr. Fox plays piano for the show and is assisted by his musicians: Dan Fox (his father) on keyboard, Chris Johnson on drums and Nick Macri on bass.

Mr. Fox is himself an alumnus of the children’s theater. In his first show as a seventh grader he played Charlie Cowell in Music Man. “I got typecast as a bad guy,” he said with a laugh in an interview last week.

After graduating from Wilton High School in 2008 he went to Wheaton College in Illinois, where he majored in piano and composition, graduating last year.

“I’ve had a very classical college musical experience,” he said. “I feel a lot of the skills really translated. Conducting is so important, as well as etiquette. How to transcribe parts from a piano score. You have to be like a Swiss army knife.”

When a theatrical group arranges to put on a show, it receives a package with script, music, etc. In the case of Little Mermaid Jr., Disney sent only piano and vocal scores. “For the bass and the drums you have to figure it out,” he said.

He is also arranging a second keyboard part with trumpets, strings and “cool sounds.”

“It’s just the nature of the package,” he said. “The package we got is colorful with chimes and sparkly things. I have to give it the color it would be missing with just piano, drums and bass. That’s what I’m trying to do with the keyboard parts.”

Mr. Fox said working with children is rewarding.

“I’m always surprised by how good they can be,” he said. “I try not to have low expectations. I try to push them. … To hear kids that age, three-part harmony can be exciting.”

This is not Mr. Fox’s first foray with children. He has worked on the Wilton Children’s Theater SummerStage Jr. program with younger children — the oldest are fifth graders — since its inception in 2010. Mr. Ploss, director of Little Mermaid Jr., got him involved.

Mr. Fox has also worked extensively with the Wilton Playshop. His first full-length show was the summer production of Lucky Stiff and he was musical director for the recently concluded The Drowsy Chaperone.

“Even with my semi-limited knowledge of musical theater, that has to be one of the most complex shows musically,” he said of The Drowsy Chaperone.

For his day jobs, Mr. Fox teaches piano and works in the online department at Golf Digest magazine here in Wilton.

In his spare time, when he has any, he composes new music.

“I want to start writing a show,” he said. “Right now I’m experimenting and thinking of ideas for songs.”

At present, Mr. Fox is focused on Little Mermaid Jr.

“I’ve been working with Skip all these years,” he said. “He’s really great with the kids. He’s been tireless and patient. The producers have had to handle a lot of crazy situations, but we’re a team. I think we’ve worked well.”