Ava Moretto, portraying Ursula, and Hannah Jeong, portraying Ariel, rehearse a scene from “The Little Mermaid” with student director and stage manager Nicole Watts at the Novi High School auditorium April 7.

Ava Moretto, portraying Ursula, and Hannah Jeong, portraying Ariel, rehearse a scene from “The Little Mermaid” with student director and stage manager Nicole Watts at the Novi High School auditorium April 7.

Photo by Charity Meier

Novi High School musical ‘The Little Mermaid’ to include matinee performance

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published April 18, 2023

 Set designer Purani Murukathas and Alexander Dyga, who plays Sir Grimsby, construct a paper-mache prop.

Set designer Purani Murukathas and Alexander Dyga, who plays Sir Grimsby, construct a paper-mache prop.

Photo by Charity Meier


NOVI — For the first time, the annual Novi High School musical will include a matinee performance this year in an effort to attract more children and older people to the show.

The school will hold three performances of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” with one on April 21 and two performances on April 22.

“We did a kids show last year and we got a lot of feedback from people, many of whom brought their kids, saying (the showtime) is just hard because the bedtime is so late, and people would have liked to have come but the bedtime was so late. Then also we’ve had a lot of feedback in the past for a matinee for older audiences who just would rather not drive at night,” said director Heather McKaig. “So we are hoping it will serve both of those populations and we’ll have success with it.”

McKaig said they are not sure at this point if they will continue to have matinee performances after this. She said it might remain for kid shows. She said it depends on how well it is attended. In order to do the matinee, the school eliminated the traditional Thursday night performance, which according to McKaig was usually not as well attended as those on Friday and Saturday nights.

Emily Malachowski, 18, who plays Flounder, said she expects that a lot of children will be attracted to the show.

“This is something that’s really well known, so it’s going to draw in a lot more younger audience (members), and that’s going to be really beneficial so they can see the future of our program and the longevity of it,” said Malachowski.

McKaig said she selected “The Little Mermaid” because when the high school performed “Cinderella” last year, they really enjoyed the community’s response to them performing a children’s show. According to McKaig, both the ticket sales and the feedback were very positive. The children’s shows also allow the cast to gain extra practice before the big stage performances by performing for children at the various elementary schools throughout the district.

“It felt like a good idea to do a kids show for a second year in a row,” McKaig said.

She said the ticket sales are very important for the show, as the cost to put on the production is very high. She said the rights to perform the show alone cost $2,400. They also had to rent three drop curtains, which also cost $2,400.

“We’re trying to make sure the kids can keep doing shows of a quality that we try to strive for, and that costs money,” she said.

Construction head Thomas Smith, 17, said that in an ongoing effort to save money, the theater department repurposes wood from prior sets. He said some of the wood they are using for this show has been recycled from sets for more than 15 years.  Another way to help cut costs is by borrowing set pieces from other schools. He said they borrowed some of the set pieces from Livonia Franklin High School.

“It takes some load off our back, and they did a great job building them,” Smith said.

McKaig said she hopes to sell $500 worth of tickets per show. According to McKaig, last year they sold just over $500 for both Friday and Saturday night performances, but only $250 on Thursday night.

Many school districts have taken on the show this year, including Livonia Franklin High School, Oxford High School, Holland High School and Waterford Kettering High School. McKaig suspects that so many schools have taken on “The Little Mermaid” this year because the live action movie will come out in May.

“That was definitely part of our deciding factor,” said McKaig.

She described the play as fun and fantasy driven, which gives actors a chance to play.

Malachowski, who has been participating in theater since she was young, including all four years of high school, had the same sentiments. She said that what makes this play so different is that most of the scenes take place underwater, and she said it is fun to not play the role of a human for a change.

Smith said one of the greatest challenges he has with this show is time management. He said they have to build in only a few weeks a ship that is over 20 feet long that both looks and moves like a real ship. He said they also often have a lot of last-minute things they are asked to construct within the final week before the performance. During the show, Smith will be in charge of the running crew to make sure all the set changes go smoothly.

Isabelle Shi, costume designer, said the costuming is interesting to do for this production and allows for more creativity, as it is more phantasmagorical. She said that while the movie is more tropical, they decided to go with a different style.

“We decided to go with a style more so where the story originated in Denmark, so we decided to go with, instead of big ball gowns, those poofy things that scream cartoon princess, we’re going with simple A-line dresses. … I think we wanted to lean it more away from the movie. This is like the Disney movie, but when people come in expecting Disney, they come in with expectations, and they start comparing to the movie,” Shi said.

Nicole Watts, student director and stage manager, said that her greatest challenge with the show is dealing with all the pressure, as this is the first time she is solely working from the director/manager view and not acting as well.

“I’m like, OK — no pressure. I’m responsible for training, the flow of the show and how, like, each actor interprets their lines, and it has gotten into very personal conversations I didn’t think I was going to have,” said Watts.  “It’s been a lot of fun working alongside my friends and just being able to see them go from, like, ‘OK, we can definitely build this up,’ to ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’”

Watts, who will be graduating this year, said she loves to direct because she gets to work with a lot of phenomenal people and develop their potential as actors. She said it is a very rewarding experience and she loves seeing the actors’ confidence blossom. She said sometimes it just makes her feel like a “proud mom.”

The play includes a full orchestra ensemble. Twin violinists Mina and Yuna Chung, 17, said the songs are similar to those in the Disney cartoon, but the stage production has a couple of additional songs. Mina said that aligning the rhythms and key changes with the cast performing onstage is pretty difficult and can be quite challenging. The twins play different roles in the orchestra. Mina is a first violinist and is focused on playing the melody, while Yuna plays the harmony.

Mina Chung said it is amazing to play music while seeing the actors performing to it.

“Music is something that a lot of people listen to every day, and it’s nice to know that you actually have a chance to even play good music,” Mina Chung said.

“As a little kid, I’ve seen so many Disney movies. So being able to play music, being able to feel the beat and enjoy it while other people act it out, sing and dance while other people are watching is something I love to see,” Yuna Chung said.

Ava Moretto, 17, who plays Ursula, said that she gets really bad stage fright, but says the adrenaline rush makes it all worthwhile. She said Ursula is her favorite Disney villain, and she can be challenging to portray, as the character is eccentric, crazy and mean, which is the opposite of her, as Moretto said she tends to be shy at first.

Moretto said that theater has enabled her to make a lot of “amazing” friends she might not have made otherwise and to gain valuable experience in  the field. She said she aspires to be a screenwriter and to continue acting.

Hannah Jeong, 17, said she gave up track this spring in order to be in the production, but she said it was worth it.

“I always enjoyed singing more than running,” she said with a chuckle. She said she went for the lead character of Ariel, as she relates to her best. She said that like herself, Ariel is bubbly and likes to be different.

“The Little Mermaid” will hit the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22, with the matinee at 1 p.m. on Saturday.