Nancy Sasso Janis
Strong Elementary School in the Plantsville section of Southington CT has a brand new Drama Club. This weekend 21 members of the club starred in their debut production of ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.’ under the able direction of Eddie Vitcavage. Mr. Vitcavage, a senior at Southington High School, directed the students with the help of fellow senior Emily Sargent as his music director and a slew of Southington HS students working backstage.
Mr. Vitcavage writes in his notes that directing this Disney classic was difficult because “everyone expects to see a musical that will resemble the movie in some way” and he also needed to adapt it to the stage with a group of eight- to ten-year-old actors. He shares that he chose the show because of the strong characters, especially Ariel; he wanted his cast to learn first hand that they should let nothing stand in their way when they feel something is right and stand up for what they believe in. His young cast members clearly adored both him and Ms. Sargent; after the curtain call of their closing performance, Ariel presented her director with a small thank you gift and clearly said “We love you” as she did so. Watching both directors lovingly direct their actors from the pit area throughout their performance was a joy for the teacher in me.
Dylan Mongillo opened the show as a fine strapping Prince Eric while Jack Silano brought a strong personality to the young prince’s guardian Grimsby. Nathan Malsheske was Ariel’s father King Triton and his long white beard made him a little hard to understand at times. The personality of Ryan Kiyak served him well as Sebastian the crab. He was dressed fully in red, exuded plenty of energy and sang very well.
Ariel’s sisters were played by Madalyn Cogswell, Skylar Renehan, Brianna Brown, Isabella Castiola, Jenna Sampias, and Josie Campbell. Ella Perillo was perky and cute as Ariel’s sidekick Flounder and was hardly a guppy on stage. Sophie Shugrue had great comedic timing as the befuddled seagull Scuttle.
Laney Sullivan played both Jetsam and Carlotta, while Mia Kennedy doubled as Flotsam and Chef Louis.They got to wear light up headpieces as the slithery eels that are Ursula’s henchmen. Kudos to these versatile young ladies. Lyla Drury, Jane Nichols, Julianne Slesinski, Samantha Storm and Ava Tulacro made up a very nice ensemble.
As Ariel, Cate Sheldrick had a good stage presence and rocked her red wig. Gwen Silva as the sea witch Ursula was a quiet powerhouse. She sang very well and owned the stage when we entered her watery palace.
Taylor Brown designed the lighting for the wonderful set that was on loan from Wallingford’s West End Players. It was large and very impressive, and the beautiful costumes added much to the look of the show. Fine choreography by Olivia White and Mary Bilodeau was nicely executed by the young dancers.
The two acts fit into 90 minutes, making it easy for young patrons to watch their siblings and friends. The Strong School PTO were instrumental in getting this production on the stage at the John F. Kennedy Middle School, as were the parents of the cast members. Mr. Vitcavage also thanked his theatrical mentors Kristy Smith, Alyssa Fontana Bunel, Sarah Reitsma and Eric Lindblom.
Strong Elementary is lucky to have these talented high school mentors to lead the way for their young actors. I hope that their Drama Club will remain in place for many upcoming school years.
Pictured: Cate Sheldrick as Ariel and Ella Perillo as Flounder in Strong Elementary School's 'Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr.' Photo by Eddie Vitcavage