This August, the Townsville Choral Society (TCS) will return to the sea to bring to life Disney’s The Little Mermaid after Townsville’s first COVID-peak cut short its January season.
Vocal Director, Claire Davies, describes the earlier season as an attempt to outrun the inevitable, once the cast’s first COVID case was identified.
“We were frantically putting some understudies into place so we could keep our second week,” says Claire..
“And then we got the second call and the third call…”
“Life is full of tough choices, isn’t it” - Ursula, The Little Mermaid
TCS made the unenviable decision to cease performances at the end of the first week.
Music director, Rianta Belford, said bumping out of the theatre – aided by friends and family of those struck ill – was an emotional process.
“The last show on Sunday ended up being the last show…but we didn’t realise it at the time,” says Rianta.
“It left us feeling oddly unsatisfied and like our job was unfinished.”
Staying true to iconic Disney
Remakes are divisive. Disney remakes are downright polarising. Factor in a history of problematic representation/diversity in the Disney franchise and TCS has quite a balancing act to perform.
Claire said the production team knew the strength of the Disney brand meant they would have a lot of expectations to meet.
“It’s got to sound a particular way. Ariel is very much a traditional Disney princess: a clear, kind of light romantic sound,” says Claire.
“Maddie (Madison Tomarchio) is just beautiful in that part. She fits it really well.”
“It also has to look like the movie, in terms of the hallmarks of the character. For Ariel that’s obviously the red hair, the clamshells and the tail.
“In today’s society people are really good about accepting points of difference. I don’t think you would necessarily have to send out a size 4 Ariel or you couldn’t send a person of colour. I think audiences are very accepting. And I think that’s a great thing.
“But if you don’t have an Ariel with red hair, no one’s going to see her as Ariel, that’s the iconic part.”
Nailing the Disney-sounding orchestra
“Gadgets and gizmos a-plenty, whozits and whatzits galore!”
The percussion section requires over 35 instruments in order to deliver every distinctive crash, twinkle and chime.
Rianta is confident that audiences will reconise almost all of the songs from the movie.
“As part of any show’s licensing agreement – especially when it comes to Disney – we are prohibited from amending the score in any way that would drastically change the shape of the show,” says Rianta.
“For this show, that requires18 players in the pit orchestra to capture that full, rich, cinematic sound.”
Adding a sprinkle of Disney magic
Disney is famed for creating magic and Claire says TCS’s The Little Mermaid doesn’t fall short.
“We have all bells and whistles including flying!” she says.
“There’s quite a few sequences where we have people in the air for various reasons, whether they’re swimming or they’re flying.
“There’s one particular scene that, the first time there was an audience watching it, they literally gasped!”
Tight-lipped regarding details, Claire offers vehement assurance that “We haven’t skimped!”
It’s an undertaking for TCS to deliver such a demanding, yet beloved show… twice!.
With immeasurable challenges taken in their stride, the cast is well prepared to take Townsville audiences on a magical adventure beneath the sea.
Catch The Little Mermaid at the Townsville Civic Theatre on 24-28 August 2022.