BY SABRINA GUO
The importance of art has been made exceptionally clear during this epidemic, as countless people turn to media to entertain and console them during these trying times.
However, one art form which necessitates live human presence has, unfortunately, been put on hold, though it does have much to teach us.
Before the untimely cancellation of their show due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Syosset High School was producing a wonderful rendition of The Little Mermaid.
Luckily, a run of the musical was recorded, preserving the work digitally for posterity. The past month has been a whirlwind which has undeniably upended our normal way of life, perhaps making it hard to remember a time when we could congregate physically to enjoy each other’s company, a nightly outing or communal event.
However, if we may, let us nostalgically turn back the clock to a time when live theater was not merely a possibility, but a joyful expression of the collective human spirit.
The Little Mermaid, though initially a dark tale by Hans Christian Anderson, has become
a celebrated worldwide phenomenon because of the lively Disney movie adaptation. So
cemented is it in our culture that it eventually went to Broadway, to great success.
Syosset High’s production was equally as momentous in scope and execution, with a large ensemble cast, a vast and ever-adaptive scenic design, charming dances and the beautiful songs we’ve come to love.
Director Gene Connor was prepared to tackle what may have been a daunting undertaking
and was keen to allow the elements of the production to uplift and support the message of the show, rather than obscure it.
“From the beginning, we wanted to produce design elements that would evoke the movie
and yet be appropriate for the three-dimensional aspect of a live show,” Connor said. “With The Little Mermaid there are many themes touched upon during the course of the show, but the one I think was most important is that of finding one’s place, figuring out where you belong.”
And clearly, the actors themselves belonged on that stage, together. The ensemble was
such a huge part of the show, supporting and creating the dual physical spaces, enhancing the emotional world and elevating each scene, allowing the leads themselves to shine as well.
“Singing in a musical is very different from singing in a purely concert setting,” vocal director Kristen Howell said. “In addition to singing their combination of solo and chorus parts, students are moving to specific and sometimes complex choreography throughout each song and the entire show.”
Ariel, played by Danielle Nodelman, juggled skating on Heelys, singing several songs, performing in various dance numbers and 10 quick costume changes, culminating in both a
stunning display of stamina and, most importantly, a profoundly touching performance.
“The most important thing I’ve learned through playing Ariel is that imagination is key in creating art,” Nodelman said. “What I enjoyed most about being a part of this production is
getting to experience the same magic that I felt watching The Little Mermaid for the very first time as a little girl, and getting to share that magic with some of my best friends in the cast and crew.”
That magic was also supported behind the scenes, with the crew and stage manager pulling off technical feats seamlessly. In addition to many large scenic pieces, three backdrops
had to be moved in and out, plus a split scrim which created a hazy effect for several scenes.
“The students that consistently showed up definitely took a significant dent of the workload,” stage manager Sara Gorelkin said. “At the end of the day I had to acknowledge that I am only one person, and as much as I’d like to think I can do everything, I can’t. Learning to trust my assistant stage manager, technical director and deck chiefs was a big reason why this show went off without a hitch.”
With all of this superb work, it’s a shame COVID-19 canceled the rest of the runs.
However, audience member Rizwan Ayub said that even putting on the show was a message of hope, and commented on the bravery it took to perform during a crisis.
“With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, everyone was so terrified that they skipped school,” Ayub said. “I was amazed, though, that the actors didn’t skip their performance, and embodied a spirit of perseverance. The show truly did go on.”
With such epic staging and stellar special effects, a beautiful sweeping orchestra underscoring live and countless cast and crew members giving their all on and off stage,
Syosset’s The Little Mermaid performance truly was a warmly communal act executed under a seamless collective vision.
“Putting up a show like this is a great collaboration between the Art, Music, Technology
and Theater departments,” stage designer Peter Haughwout said. “Between the actors, stage crew and the musicians, over 100 students are involved, with each one of them putting their hearts and souls into it, and it shows. I just wish we could have performed all the shows, I think it may have been the best ever.”
In The Little Mermaid, a group of students and artists came together to ask a very real
question for us today: Where do we belong?
Ariel’s dilemma was between land and sea, in a beautiful landscape filled with magic and song. Through connecting with her message and now navigating our own sense of place in these uncertain times, it may be that many of us are reflecting on our own belonging.
In a slowed down yet hectic world in which we are practicing social distancing, perhaps we are realizing something which theater has implied for thousands of years: we truly do belong together.
And so, as we recognize our need for each other during this difficult season, let us do what we can in our communities to support, care for and encourage one another, patiently awaiting the day when we may once again come together for a wonderful night of theater.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in watching this wonderful production and supporting your local arts community during a difficult time, you can watch it for free on the YouTube channel, @funfamily6, or go to https://www.youtube.com/user/funfamily6/.