WAUPACA, Wis. (WFRV) – A sweet mermaid, a funny crab, a feeling of love and songs that embrace or tickle the funnybone.

It’s the musical “The Little Mermaid,” now being done up large by The Waupaca Community Theatre in the city’s impressive performing arts center.

The printed program includes notable notes. Director John Kelley calls the production “enormous” and gives a nod to “so many people.” He closes with, “This show is for my girls.” The program is sprinkled with Kelleys. Two of whom are his wife, Gretchen Kelley, whose work in costuming is filled with vitality, and a daughter, Emma Kelley, whose voice as leading character Ariel is filled with another kind of vitality.

In the story, a human prince is lured by the siren call of a mermaid’s voice. Emma Kelley’s high, clean, clear range is such a voice. This prince’s voice – that of Alex Lederer – is an alluring tenor match.

Supported by a live, 14-piece orchestra conducted by John Kelley, the singing is colorful. A quartet near the conclusion to “If Only” is alluring artistry. Combined in yearning lyrics are the sensibilities of the noble King Triton (Tim Koll), the crab Sebastian (Justin Schilling), Ariel (Emma Kelley) and the prince (Alex Lederer).

For good reason, Saturday night’s family filled audience gave the production a standing ovation.

“The Little Mermaid” is a title that sticks. Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fairy tale 185 years ago. A movie version arrived in 1989, which is a full generation ago. This stage version arrived in 2007, playing on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, named for some really famous Wisconsinites of the past.

The production maintains lessons that are infused in Hans Christian Andersen tales. For example, these lines: “I can’t hate him just because he’s different” (acceptance of others in a diverse world) and “You can’t blame all humans for a few wicked ones” (a take on the proverb about bad apples). From the original, the core flight of imagination remains: A selfless being (who happens to be mermaid) will give of her most precious thing to live among humans.

Sculpture of The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Warren Gerds)

This and that from The Waupaca Community Theatre production that continues for four more performances:

+ Ariel’s gliding underwater motion is represented by half skates (rollers on the heels only). Cora Lederer, as the heartbroken Flounder, also moves by way of the clever idea in the featured song, “She’s in Love.”

+ Massive effort in costuming is part of every player. Included are the mermaid tale effects of the six Mersisters, the webbed feet and gull-y look of the six gulls, the squid-ly arms of joyously witchy Ursula (Pam Gusmer) and the electric eel arm puppetry (lightbulbs, too) of Ursula’s partners in nastiness, Flotsam (Liz Kelley) and Jetsam (Lori Zelinske).

+ The look of Tim Koll, as King Triton, comes naturally. His full whiskers fit his character, as does the strength of his voice.

+ On Broadway, some stars are greeted by applause as they arrive on stage. Saturday, Justin Schilling seemed to have such a following, for his arrival and during final bows. He portrays Sebastian, the crab who’s always comically skirting trouble that Ariel gets him into. His is another prime costume – crab-y claws and red all over, including face make-up and hair dye. Talk about getting into character. Justin Sebastian also supplies a catchy Caribbean accent.

+ Lori Bauer, as Scuttle, the seagull with a dictionary all her own, pours energy into the goofiness. And there’s nothing quite like a little entourage of tap-dancing seagulls.

+ For sheer goofy, there’s Chef Louis (Pam Lysne), who is in charge of a cooking session filled with slapstick humor that’s a tad dark because supper is fish – in essence Ariel’s friends.

+ The production/story struggles at the end for a seamless conclusion, but it is a flight of fancy, after all.

+ Ensembles stand out, including the company in production numbers, the Mersisters in look and voice and the Sailors in action and sound.

+ The stage is dressed sea fashion. The front of the orchestra pit includes corral pieces and one large faux sea shell. The sides are made up as seaweeds/kelp, including glass bulbs that imitate air bubbles.

+ When Prince Eric falls overboard in the story, his underwater desperation is created by a moving set piece with Alex Lederer lying on his back struggling in slow motion. 

Under the auspices of Waupaca Fine Arts Festival, the production caps the 2021-2022 season with vigorous energy and effort.


Running time: Two hours, 26 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Aug. 4-6; 2 p.m. Aug. 7

Info: fineartsfestival.org

Creative: Based on the classic story by Hans Christian Andersen, based on the Disney film: book – Doug Wright; music – Alan Menken; lyrics – Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater; director – John Kelley; assistant director – Liz Kelley; choreography – Michael Etzweiler; additional choreography – Liz Kelley, Linda Trepasso; vocal coaches – Holly Sanders, Linda Trepasso; rehearsal accompanist – Wanda Eikenbary; costuming – Gretchen Kelley; set and scenic art design – Justin Schilling; set construction manager – Dave Larson; prop builder – Dale Dobbe; lighting design – Cole Pankratz; sound and lighting – Kira Morrissey, Gracie Liegl, Noah Kolinski; spotlights – Shannon Seidel, Logan Nusz; stage manager – Hannah Kelley

Cast (in order of appearance)

Ariel – Emma Kelley

Ship Pilot – Aarick Danielson

Prince Eric – Alex Lederer

Grimsby – Marshall Lysne

Flounder – Cora Lederer

Scuttle – Lori Bauer

Windward – Keira Konkol

Leeward – Sierra Lubahn

King Triton – Tim Koll

Sebastian – Justin Schilling

Flotsam – Liz Kelley

Jetsam – Lori Zelinske

Ursula – Pamela Gusmer

Chef Louis – Pam Lysne


   Aquata – Rylie Nusz

   Andrina – Twyla Alix

   Arista – Nevaeh Johnson

   Attina – Lili Liegl

   Adella – Rylynn Eskildsen

  Allana – Hannah Holterman

Sailors/Chefs – Patrick Bauer, Mason Czech, Aarick Danileson, Dale Dobbe, Tyler Higginson, Neil Nusz, Seth Rowland, Dean Sondrol, Quj (Teng) Vang

Gulls – Isabella Elandt, Livi Higginson, Sierra Lubahn, Erinn Manteufel, Carmen Riebel, Hannah Verstegen

Maids – Karen Cerne, Kimberly Conradt, Martha Elandt, Kay Ellingson, Audrey Nusz, Deb Ostrander

Princesses – Isabella Elandt, Alisa Forseth, Becca Gehrke, Livi Higginson, Erinn Manteufel, Hannah Verstegen

Ensemble/Ariel Double – Ashley Brill

Orchestra: Conductor – John Kelley; violin – Emily Sipiorski, Steve Wucherer; cello – Emily Loper; flute – Ann Stevens; reeds – Kari Schwartz, Davin Schwartz; French horn – Amber Sperl; trumpet – Matt Guilette; keyboards – Wanda Eikenbary, Linda Kelley, Holly Sanders; bass – Ray Kilanowski; drums – Brett Oemig; percussion – Marisol Kuborn


Musical numbers

Act I

“The World Above” – Ariel

“Fathoms Below” – Pilot, Sailors, Prince Eric, Grimsby

“Daughters of Triton” – Mersisters

“If Only (Triton’s Lament)” – King Triton

“Daddy’s Little Angel” – Ursula, Flotsam, Jetsam

“Part of Your World” – Ariel

 “The Storm” – Sailors

“Part of Your World” (Reprise) – Ariel

 “She’s in Love” – Flounder, Mersisters

“Her Voice” – Prince Eric

“Under the Sea” – Sebastian, Sea Creatures

“If Only (Ariel’s Lament)” – Ariel

“Sweet Child” – Flotsam, Jetsam

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” – Ursula

Act I Finale – Ursula, Ariel

Act II

“Positoovity” – Scuttle, Gulls

“Beyond My Wildest Dreams” – Ariel, Maids, Grimsby

“Les Poissons” – Chef Louis

“Les Poissons” (Reprise) – Chef Louis, Chefs

“One Step Closer” – Prince Eric

“Daddy’s Little Angel” (Reprise)” – Ursula, Flotsam, Jetsam

“Kiss the Girl” – Sebastian, Animals

“If Only” (Quartet) – Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, King Triton

“The Contest” – Grimsby, Princesses

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” (Reprise) – Ursula

“Finale” – King Triton, Ariel, Prince Eric,Ensemble


THE VENUE: Located at E2325 King Road, the large-scale Waupaca High School was completed in 2000. Its auditorium/Performing Arts Center features a spacious aura, with a high ceiling and wide seating area for more than 600. The ceiling is an array of angled rectangles with tan wood rims around dark red (acoustical?) tiles. The walls are very geometrical in design – tan wood, with bricks of reds and gray. Textured gray cement block forms a slightly convex wall for the orchestra pit/stage front. The stage is wide and high with a large dark red curtain. The place looks built to impress.