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A Magical 'Mermaid'

Theater troupe offers a trip beneath the sea for younger audiences.

November 24, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you are around the house with young children to entertain at the end of this long holiday weekend, you might consider taking in the afternoon performance of "The Little Mermaid" at the Excalibur Theater in Studio City.

The show is a trip in itself, consisting of scenes set underwater, on land and in the sky. There are storms and monsters, and although the cast consists of only 10 members, they evoke creature-filled undersea realms and castles full of courtiers.

Presenting this on stage is an energetic group of performers, Kelrik Productions, now based in the San Fernando Valley but founded more than a decade ago in Indiana by brother and sister Erik and Kelly Austin. "Mermaid" is one of eight plays for children the company will be performing Sundays at the Excalibur, located above Jerry's Famous Deli. Erik is the artistic director; Kelly recently left to attend law school.

The cast, all professional local actors, includes Kristin Towers in the title role and Ben Gonio as her prince, with Robert Grinlinger as King Triton and Paula K. Long and Lisa Peacock as his daughters. Others are Catthryn DeBlor as the Sea Witch and Dustin Veltman as Burtle the Turtle.

For this hourlong version of the Hans Christian Anderson fable, Austin said he encourages parents to tell their children beforehand that the play is different from the animated Disney movie. Like the original story, the play ends with the mermaid, Ariel, magically transformed into sea foam rather than running off with a prince.

"The ending as it was originally written offers hope and teaches us to always pursue our dreams, and even if we arrive at a different place than we anticipate in our pursuits, there is always a purpose," he said.

During a recent performance, children in the audience were almost as energetic as the actors. Many attended in costumes of characters in the story. They followed the events on stage closely, occasionally calling out to the actors and mimicking their gestures.

"This is their theater etiquette, to get dressed up and interact with the performers," said stage manager Christina Lupica.

The Kelrik troupe will perform "The Secret Garden" next month.

Three-year-old Victoria Baker of San Pedro arrived with her mother and her personal theater etiquette intact. Enthralled by the chance to talk with the cast afterward and unfazed by the bittersweet ending, she said, "I saw the real Ariel! She hugged me!"

BE THERE

"The Little Mermaid," Sunday at 1 p.m., Excalibur Theater, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Tickets: $8 for children under 12 and $12 for adults. Call (818) 760-7529.

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