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The Unpopular Little Mermaid

Marissa Berardo, Staff Reporter

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A minimal amount of  WHS students auditioned for this year’s spring musical, Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Males were particularly scarce this year as well. The cast is working hard and director Antonella DeAngelis is looking forward to a successful production in May.

DeAngelis, Director and owner of Theatre Scrapbook, has a lot on her plate. She is directing the Westerly Middle School’s spring musical (to be performed in early April), the high school’s production with performances in early May, and St. Michael’s musical later in May.

Only 13 students complete the WHS cast even with a guaranty of landing a part after the audition. The underwhelming response is somewhat disappointing, given that WHS attracted numerous cast members in recent years with plays such as Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables.

According to DeAngelis, today’s acting interest at WHS seems to be limited.

“In the 80’s, [WHS] had very strong casts and tons of interest. In the early 90’s that waned, and shows were limited to small cabarets. In the mid 90’s interest picked up, and there was a stretch of 10 years ending in 2005 with casts close to and sometimes exceeding 100. After that it died down again.”

DeAngelis recalled how in 2011 and 2012, WHS had the participation level and finances available to perform massive undertakings like Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables for WHS Music and Choral Director David DeAngelis, Jr.

Currently, she says, “Grease and The Little Mermaid are setting a foundation from which the program can grow.”

The Westerly Middle School performed The Little Mermaid, Jr. in December with Theatre Scrapbook, so it was surprising to hear a similar title for the high school.  Some WHS students said they were looking forward to auditioning for the spring musical, but backed out when they learned that The Little Mermaid would be performed.

“I was thinking about auditioning, but I believe that play is a little too young for high school students,” said freshman Nyla Gill-Cerda. “It didn’t really interest me.”

DeAngelis disagrees, saying that The Little Mermaid is “absolutely appropriate for this age group,” and “The Little Mermaid is a beloved children’s movie that turned into a massive Broadway show done by professional theater companies, colleges, and high schools all around the world. It has incredible name recognition and a largely female or gender-neutral cast, which helps when you have to go in assuming you won’t get a lot of male students.”

Finding male leads is certainly difficult; in fact, there are only three male students in the cast and only three in last year’s Grease. According to DeAngelis, girls always seem to be more interested in performing in the high school musicals, whether the particular play is supposed to be more female-driven or more male-driven.

“Historically, it has always been difficult to attract males to try out for theater in high school,” she said. “The only real way to fix that problem is to have a long-standing program where they feel comfortable participating.” She noted Theatre Scrapbook’s younger K-8 shows have considerably more boys who “hopefully will make the choice to stick with it in high school.”

Of course, a cast of 13 for this year’s play means that enthusiasm is low among female students as well.  Attracting more students in the future is important to the success of the spring musical. It should be noted there hasn’t been a theater club at WHS for a couple of years, nor has there been a theater elective available due to the unavailability of a teacher.

DeAngelis said, “The key to attracting more students is by putting on a great show, making it well known that the program from this past year was successful, and getting the word out early about next year’s musical.”

According to DeAngelis, show choice is important, but is not everything; each year has its own criteria.  She said that sometimes a lesser-known show might be the right fit for a particular group of students, and sometimes it’s better to pick the most well-known show and “try to cast a wide net, even if you’re not sure you can fit all the pieces to the puzzle.”

In terms of The Little Mermaid, DeAngelis said, “We believed this was the right choice for this year, was a production that could be done well, and would be well received. I believe once younger students see the success of this production, they will be more interested next year.”

DeAngelis is pleased with the cast.  She said, “We have a great cast of hard working students who are energetic and excited about what they are learning. Some of them are more experienced, some of them less, but they give it everything they have, and most of the time they end up doing things they never thought they were capable of.”

Come get a taste of theater at Westerly High School on May 5th and 6th from 7 to 9 pm and think about joining next year’s production for memorable fun and exciting experiences.

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The Unpopular Little Mermaid