APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Fox Valley Lutheran High School students took to the water this month, singing tunes many Disney lovers categorize as classics.

The local high school brought Disney’s The Little Mermaid to life March 4-6 this season. Local 5 swam up to some cheerful characters and asked them a few questions before their last in-person performance at the high school on Sunday.

Austin Kerbs, Elise Nolte, Merrick Hirthe.

“I’m excited, after last year with all the masks and COVID restrictions, that this year we can finally show our faces more and, especially with The Little Mermaid, we have so much makeup that we were able to incorporate – like this (motions to her face) would not look as cool as it was last year. So it’s really awesome to have it back to normal,” said Elise Nolte, who played Ursula.

“This show, probably more than any show that we’ve ever done in recent history, has the visuals – the color, customing, visual effects, choreography, lighting,” added Wendy Bixby, the director. “It’s a spectacle and we’re excited to see it on stage.”

Bixby says being able to see the kids find their voice as their characters was one of the most exciting things this season.

“One of my biggest challenges was making sure that I found all of my notes properly. Because I’ve never been a trained singer so this is my first musical so I had to make sure that I was hitting everything right and being Sebastian,” explained Austin Kerbs, who brought the crab to life.

The director says there was a bit of a challenge this season since they had 37 kids in the cast and only 15 had done a show before. “And so, combine that with last year having some restrictions with what we could do as far as costuming, makeup, and hair, we have a lot of kids who are doing this for the first time. Managing all of that and teaching them the ropes so that each grade can pass it down to the next one – that’s been a challenge but they handled it beautifully,” explained Bixby.

Merrick Hirthe, who was a mer-sister in the show, says this year was great for making lasting memories. “Probably doing makeup in the groom room and just jamming out to any song – probably a little bit too hard before a show – but it was worth it,” she said. Nolte nodded in agreement.

Hirthe says the best part of the production wasn’t the music, it’s – “The people. It’s so much fun. There’s a different level of stress but everyone, every director/cast member, makes it fun so regardless of whatever musical is it’s always enjoyable.”

“It feels like every year our shows get elevated even more and more people come and see the awesome atmosphere. Yeah, it’s the people that make it great,” agreed Nolte.

The cast and crew engaged with the community through preview shows with elementary students and the performers had the little kids participate in building some of the set.

“A few weeks back we sent to our local grade schools packages of paper sheets that they would write their names on and then they sent it back to us, we brought them here, we made them into little paper trees and brush sort of things that show up in the back of ‘Kiss the Girl.’ It’s a cool little connection we have with them,” explained Kerbs.

It took a lot of time and gluing, but students say it was worth it.

Wendy Bixby

The school is participating in the Fox Cities Performing Art Center’s (PAC) Center Stage program this year as well. Theater programs are able to get their shows critiqued by a team that gives feedback to directors and students leading up to the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase event in May.

“The Center Stage program has helped us grow tremendously and the feedback that we get is really valuable. It’s nice to be able to give the kids a rubric,” added Bixby. “And I think it’s a great opportunity for the community to see what high schools are doing in terms of theater. And for our kids to get feedback from people outside of maybe the student body or the facility who would normally come to the show or their parents – it’s a broader community now that’s aware of high school theatre and what’s happening and I think that gives the kids the spotlight that they deserve for being in the arts.”

For more information about the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program, click here. And if you are curious about what’s next on the playbill for the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, click here.