Julia Johnson has a big imagination, much like the character of Ariel in Disney's classic tale of a mermaid who imagines herself as a girl with feet instead of fin. But Julia never imagined herself performing in "The Little Mermaid."
She will have that chance when the curtain rises Friday at the Roger Ludlowe Middle School auditorium for the Fairfield Pre-Teen Players' production of "The Little Mermaid Jr.," a 60-minute musical designed for middle-school-age performers, based on the 1989 animated feature film and the 2008 Broadway production. It features songs from the film as well as three new songs from the Broadway show.
Two separate casts with a total of 71 Fairfield elementary and middle school children will take on the roles of Ariel, Sebastian, and a host of other sea creatures for the performances this weekend.
The musical is set in a magical kingdom under the sea, where Ariel longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. During her quest, Ariel defies her father -- the king of the sea, escapes the clutches of an evil sea witch named Ursula, and convinces Prince Eric that she's the girl with the perfect voice.
"It was just released by Disney and we thought it would be fun and exciting to do for the camp and their families," said director and producer Christina Agvent De Andrade, who teaches education at Post University and directs and produces performances year round.
"People familiar with the movie will hear songs they know. It's a blend of old and new," she said, and that includes "Under the Sea" and "Part of My World," which Julia often sang for her father, Leonard Johnson.
"We're doing my favorite play of all time. When I was little I would listen to the soundtrack and I would watch the movie over and over again," said Julia, who plays Scuttle, the leader of the seagulls. "I'm excited that I got such a large part. Some parts are really funny and my part is funny. I get to be funny on stage," she said.
The musical production is presented by Fairfield Pre-Teen Players, a division of Fairfield Teen Theatre which is supported by the town's Parks and Recreation Department. The summer theater camp program is in its 11th year.
De Andrade said there is no formal audition process. "We get to know the children through theater games and activities and we cast the show based on what we see happenings during that week," she said.
"I've been doing this since I was 8. I was in `Phantom Mouse of the Opera,' `The Magical Land of Oz' and `The Jungle Book,' " said Amber Schaper, 11, who plays Alana, one of the six Mer Sisters. "I love to perform and this is such a great camp. I love to sing and dance and act," Amber said.
Gabby said she loves playing her part as one off the Mer Sisters and making new friends at camp. "It's fun to learn the songs and the choreography," she said.
Some of the performers are participating simply to have something fun to do for the summer but others view this as a springboard for careers in musical theater. "I really hope someday I can be a singer and an actress so I try to find places to act and sing," Sarah said.
Many of the campers enjoy the program so much they return year after year, and after they pass the progran's age limit, they often return as camp counselors.
"I have a fabulous staff most of who started out as campers in the program," De Andrade said. During Monday's rehearsal of the morning camp cast counselor Carly Georgen, 17, had the Mer Sisters practice their musical number while Lauren McKulla sat on the edge of the stage working on cardboard fish which will be part of the set. Julianne Shea and Christina Kalasut looked at some of the costumes and watched De Andrade's rehearsal to see what scenes might need extra work.
The Fairfield Pre-Teen Players' performances of Disney's "The Little Mermaid Jr." are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Roger Ludlowe Middle School auditorium, 689 Unquowa Road. The performances are open to the public and admission is $10 per person. The auditorium's box office will open at 6:30 p.m. both nights.