Sydney Martin fought back tears as she tried on Ariel’s bright red wig for the first time.
There she was, a princess, starring in Disney’s The Little Mermaid on the Mt. Lebanon High School stage. All of her childhood dreams had come true.
“It was so surreal,” said Martin, 18, who performs as Ariel in the blue cast. “Our costumer looked at me after I tried it on and said, ‘How does it feel to be a Disney princess?’ It became real for me in that moment.”
For the last four months, more than 250 students at Mt. Lebanon High School have been working hard behind the scenes to bring the whimsical underwater tale to life. The show debuts Thursday and runs through Saturday with 7:30 p.m. performances each evening. A matinee show is slated for 2 p.m. Saturday.
“These kids are excited to tell a story that they’ve known since childhood,” said producer and vocal director Ethan LaPlaca, who serves as choral director at the high school. “Each kid brings their own personality to the role. This is a really great class.”
Students are in charge of many aspects of the show. This is their chance to shine and learn, all while having fun.
Mt. Lebanon’s musical program is unique in many ways, including that there are two casts for every show, deemed blue and gold. That means a lot of extra rehearsing, as everything that’s done needs to be done twice, LaPlaca said. But it also gives more students the opportunity to perform in lead roles and allows them to work cooperatively as a team.
Both junior Sean Stoner, 17, and sophomore Gray Wagner, 16, play Sebastian, the Australian-accented crab, who serves as King Triton’s advisor. (In the movie, Sebastian has a Jamaican accent. Mt. Lebanon chose to change that to be culturally appropriate.)
Stoner and Wagner work closely together to develop the role. Wagner credits Stoner with helping her perfect her accent.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from Sean,” she said. “We rely on each other and now we’re friends.”
Between the blue and gold casts, there are 55 students performing in the show. The Little Mermaid also includes 20 students performing in the dance company, 150 students in the orchestra and nearly 40 students involved in tech.
For cast members, this is an extracurricular activity. But, for the dance company, orchestra and tech, this is part of their school curriculum.
“We’re all about education in Mt. Lebanon,” LaPlaca said with a smile.
To help with this, the show has five adult directors. Along with LaPlaca, Greg Kuhar serves as tech director, Doug Reichenfeld is the orchestra director, Jen Majetic is the stage director and Maddie Tieman is the dance director.
“This show has a little bit of everything,” Majetic said. “We’ve got tap numbers. We’ve got romance. We’ve got the nostalgia of Disney’s childhood. We’ve got acrobatics and some special effects. There’s going to be bubbles and some other surprises that everybody is going to have to come to see.”
The show follows the plot of the Disney movie, adapted for the stage, along with additional songs that you’ll likely fall in love with.
“Eric gets to sing in this one!” Martin exclaimed.
Performing in such a popular show brings added pressure for the actors. They have big shoes to fill, but also the task of making it their own.
“It has the nostalgia factor,” said senior Brett Czarniak, 18, who plays Prince Eric in the blue cast. “I’m super excited because I loved that movie as a kid. All of the characters are super fun to play.”
Senior Eliza Harbaugh, 18, who plays Ariel in the gold cast, echoed that sentiment.
“It has a big connection to all of the little kids watching it,” she added. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve never played a role this big before. It’s every little girl’s dream to play a princess.”
Along with the excitement, Martin also hopes to motivate young girls to dream big.
“I’ve grown up in theater. I think if I can help inspire one other little girl in the audience to want to do something like this when she grows up, that will be enough for me,” she said.
When asked what the show’s big “hook” is this year (get it?), cast members raved about the costumes.
“They really make me feel like a princess,” Harbaugh said. “They’re all so colorful and pretty.”
Ariel has six costumes, each one more wowing than the next.
“We just worked out the tail transformation the other day. No spoilers, but it’s so cool. That’s something that I want people to be talking about,” Martin said.
There’s likely a lot the audience will be talking about after seeing the show.
“It’s going to be a really immersive show, with all of the under the sea vibes,” Stoner added.
“What aren’t they going to be talking about? That’s the better question. It’s the dance. The movement. The colors. The lighting. The acting. We are so fortunate here that these kids are so talented,” Majetic said. “They’ve got to come see the kids. They’re incredibly talented and they’ve been working so hard. They’ve got to come support them. We’re bringing back that Mt. Lebanon musical magic this year, but under water.”
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased here!