‘Little Mermaid Jr.’ swims to Theatre of the Republic stage in Conway

Theatre of the Republic’s Coastal Youth Theatre will go under water to close the first season of its program, ready to sail into summer camp.

Participants in the spring session will bring Walt Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” to the Main Street Theatre, 335 Main St., Conway, for performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Lunda Cornelius, executive director of the youth theater begun last summer, cited “the old adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’”

Seeing the reception for and interest in the youth theater has thrilled her, especially for the age range: 6-18.

Having teens turn out, Cornelius said, “has really made me happy,” and they also have come from Carolina Forest, a community whose high school is renowned locally for its performing arts program.

She said when getting Coastal Youth Theatre going last summer with a camp, younger children gained their own outlet for learning theater craft, then having older students make their mark this spring became a bonus.

Each of the theater sessions – summer, fall and spring – which concludes with the students performing in public shows, has numbered 30 to 40 members, Cornelius said. The upcoming summer camp will close with performances of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” at 7:30 p.m. July 25-26 and 3 p.m. July 26-27, then the autumn program will culminate with “Babes in Toyland Jr.” Nov. 28-30.

Previewing “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” Cornelius called “this very famous operetta” adapted in this “pared down” version for stage “great for kids, with so many delicious roles.”

“This is going to be a beautiful show,” she said, “and it is technically as difficult as show I’ve been in myself as an adult.”

Cornelius said “The Little Mermaid” comes in two licensed published versions. She said having experience with the Pioneer Drama Service adaptation of “The Little Mermaid,” at that time, she never thought she also would dive into directing a Music Theatre International edition.

“It challenges me,” she said, “because I have to go steps further, not just a step further.”

Popular classic story

Figuring “just about every child and parent has seen the movie,” a musical based on a classic Hans Christian Andersen story, Cornelius said performing the story of Ariel and the crew takes some charm.

“We have all the main characters,” she said, citing such roles as Ursula the sea witch, Scuttle the gull and Sebastian the crab, and playing Flounder, “an adorable 7-year-old.”

Cornelius said coordinating such programs, and in particular, this play, she has loved helping inspire children “to open their minds and imagination, and become fishes,” especially with the “dynamics of portraying” a sea creature for the “Under the Sea” sequence and “going out of the box.”

“These kids have really grown into this show,” she said.

Tim McGhee, Theatre of the Republic’s executive and artistic director, commended Coastal Youth Theatre performing as part of the overall community troupe’s annual “Holiday on Main Street: My Favorite Things” show run, “a huge hit” this past December.

Theatre of the Republic, midway through its fifth decade, will conclude its season with “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” June 20-July 6, and Cornelius will play Miss Mona, McGhee said.

“It’s just a fun, silly show,” he said, happy it comes on the heels of “one of my favorite shows, ‘Bonnie & Clyde: A New Musical,’” which wrapped up its three weekends on May 11.

McGhee said brochures on Theatre of the Republic’s 2014-15 season were about to hit the press earlier this week. The company in the historic theater house in the heart of Conway’s Main Street will make room for the musical “Avenue Q” to start its 45th anniversary year, Aug. 15-31. Other titles in the series are “Young Frankenstein” Oct. 17-Nov. 2, “Holiday Special” Dec. 4-20, then “Rent” Feb. 20-March 8, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” April 24-May 10, and “Gypsy” June 19-July 5.