Silliness reigns under the sea in The Off Broadway Theatre’s ‘The Littlest Mermaid’ at Draper Historic TheatreFeb 03, 2021 10:10AM ● By Katherine Weinstein
Sebastian Smith, Katie Whitely and Jessica Andrews rehearse as the sea witch Usana and her shark henchmen in The Off Broadway Theatre’s musical comedy “The Littlest Mermaid.” (Photo by Eric Jensen/The Off Broadway Theatre)
By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]
“If there has ever been a time for more laughter, this is it,” exclaimed actor Jessica Duncan. Duncan, who plays the sister of the title character in The Off Broadway Theatre’s “The Littlest Mermaid,” is thrilled to be a part of the cast. “I am so blessed to be doing this during COVID,” she said. “It is really awesome to give people a fun night out.”
The Off Broadway Theatre will present this original musical comedy throughout February on the stage of Draper Historic Theatre. “The Littlest Mermaid” is a family-friendly takeoff on the classic fairy tale and Disney movie with lots of slapstick physical comedy, puns and topical jokes. The musical numbers parody classic Disney tunes as well as current pop songs.
“We’re more like a SNL skit,” said director and playwright Eric Jensen. “The writers are in the show and write parts for themselves as they go. It’s a different way of doing theater.”
“We just get together and make each other laugh,” said actor Boston Smith. Smith, who plays the no-nonsense crustacean Crabsworth, explained, “We’re up on stage having fun and we want the audience to share in that.”
While Jensen wrote the script for “The Littlest Mermaid,” much of what audiences see on stage is based on the actors improvising and inserting their own jokes and ideas into the show. Actors are encouraged to invent more comedic bits and make the show mirror society to a greater extent. “It is hard to remember what was scripted and what was improvised,” said Jessica Andrews who plays a shark named Finny.
Jensen spoke of how the theater company seeks to instill confidence and self-esteem in the actors when their ideas are incorporated into the production. “It’s amazing to see the lives you can change through theater,” Jensen said.
“The whole environment is really nice, really positive,” Andrews said. “They pushed me to come out of my shell. Now it’s a little easier for me.”
Finny the shark is one of the sea witch’s henchmen, played with a Brooklyn “tough guy” accent. In this show, the sea witch herself is not named Ursula as in the Disney movie, but Usana. The Off Broadway Theatre shows often find silly ways to gently send up Utah culture.
The Off Broadway Theatre has been staging original comedies, parodies and improvisational comedy for over 25 years. The name refers to the proximity of the theater’s original performance space to 300 East in downtown Salt Lake City, also known as Broadway. When the building that housed The Off Broadway Theatre was sold in 2019, Jensen and his wife, Founder and Executive Director Sandy Hubble Jensen, began looking for other performance venues. They formed a partnership with Draper Historic Theatre last summer.
Moving to a different performance space has required The Off Broadway Theatre to try new approaches to set design and staging. Projected images will be used to transform the back wall of the Draper Historic Theatre stage into the underwater world of “The Littlest Mermaid.” “It’s a little different from what we’ve normally done,” Jensen said. “Our aim is to create as high a quality production as we can.”
The cast, crew and management of both The Off Broadway Theatre and Draper Historic Theatre are taking extra precautions to keep their shows running as safely as possible during the pandemic. The actors are wearing masks and temperatures are routinely checked. In the audience, patrons are being seated in alternate rows with three empty seats between parties. The seats are cleaned and sanitized after every rehearsal and performance.
“We try to take all the precautions we can,” Andrews said. “I think it’s good to get away, come laugh and get your spirits up a little.”
“If you’re looking for a night of fun, to let loose and have a good laugh, this is the show to see,” Smith said.
The Off Broadway Theatre will present “The Littlest Mermaid” during February at Draper Historic Theatre, 12366 S. 900 East. For performance dates, times and tickets, visit www.theobt.org.