Spring Musical Preview: Getting Ready for "The Little Mermaid"

Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson And Grace Rajendran rehearse a scene from "The Little Mermaid," this year's EPHS Spring Musical.

Junior Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson (left) as Ariel and senior Grace Rajendran as Sebastian rehearse a scene from "The Little Mermaid," this year's spring musical. The show will be performed March 15-17 in the EPHS auditorium. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

The 2019 EPHS Spring Musical, Disney's "The Little Mermaid," will be performed March 15-17 in the school auditorium.

The production is supervised by Mr. Noah Pligge (director and choreographer), Mr. Michael Popplewell (vocal music director), Mr. Kyle Rhoades (producer and pit orchestra director), Mr. Christian Rosenzweig (set designer) and Ms. Susan Schultz (costume designer).

Tickets are $5, with free admission for EP students, staff and senior citizens. Showtimes will be: 

► 7 p.m. Friday, March 15
► 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16
► 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17

On opening night, the EPHS Art Program will hold its annual Spring Art Show featuring student work from Intro to Art, 2-D Studio and Ceramics. The artwork will be on display in the District Office hallway beginning at 6 p.m.

The stage version of "The Little Mermaid" is based on the animated 1989 Disney film of the same name, which in turn was based on the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a mermaid who dreams about life above the sea. The musical previewed on Broadway in November 2007 and opened in January 2008.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Junior Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson (far left), senior Grace Rajendran and sophomores Juliet Howard, Lexi Nieves and Kyla Narayan take center stage with one of their stellar dance routines. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

A Trip Under the Sea

Following up on her performance as the title character in last year's EPHS Spring Musical, "Cinderella," junior Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson will play the lead role of Ariel.

Other performers include senior Grace Rajendran as Sebastian, junior Matt Hernandez as Prince Eric, junior Jackie Vargas as Ursula, sophomore Quinn Skelly as King Triton, sophomore Geneva Webber-Smith as Flounder and junior Joe Klockenkemper as Chef Louis.

But the cast as a whole is sure to wow audiences, according to Mr. Pligge.

"The ensemble has been working their fins off on their big 'Under the Sea' number," he said. "I have been impressed with their dedication and willingness to step out of their comfort zone. We have a handful of killer tap dancers, and their number is going to rock! I don't want to give too much away, but there are some impressive performances this year!"

When opening night finally arrives on March 15, audience members will be seeing the fruits of more than two months of preparation. The cast began rehearsing on Jan. 14, and the pit orchestra has been practicing since Jan. 10.

"Usually this date is earlier," Mr. Rhoades noted, "but the rental company didn't send our materials on time this year."

To learn more about the production, which involves more than 100 students in all, check out our interviews with Mr. Pligge and Mr. Rhoades below.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Sophomores Lexi Nieves (far left) and Melanie Arroyo (gray sweatshirt) join in a crowd-pleasing number. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q&A with the Director & Producer

The following is an edited version of interviews conducted via email by District 401's web/media specialist, Mr. Dave Porreca, with the EPHS spring musical's director and choreographer, Mr. Noah Pligge, and the show's producer and pit orchestra director, Mr. Kyle Rhoades.

Q: What's involved in preparing an EPHS musical production?

Mr. Pligge: Oh my goodness, this is a loaded question! Pardon me for not being so brief. I don’t think many people know what goes into putting together a high school musical. We all have our different caps we wear throughout the show. Sue Schultz is the costume queen and everything in between that goes along with visuals. Christian Rosenzweig is in charge of set building. Mike Popplewell does the vocals and takes on the role of sound designer. Kyle is the producer and is in charge of all the logistics for the show. When he isn’t doing that, he is the pit director and accompanist. He also does the light programming and installation. I am the director and choreographer. Those roles here include coming up with a design for the set and lights, getting props, wigs and makeup, and anything else that goes into telling the story.

All the staff members communicate to make sure we are all on the same page, and if we have a chance to work together we will. We do something that is called a "sitzprobe," which is where the cast and pit have a rehearsal together without any dancing or staging (it translates to a "seated rehearsal"). We usually have a few of these rehearsals to touch base on tempos and making sure we have the music locked and loaded.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Freshman Lucianna Afryl as Aquata sings a number while sophomore Isabella Soto as Atina looks on. In front are sophomores Kyla Narayan as Arista and Melanie Arroyo as Andrina. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Mr. Rhoades: Mike, Noah, Sue, Christian Rosenzweig and I do a LOT of communicating outside of rehearsals. We aren't able to attend each other's meetings, so sometimes there end up being a few surprises! Generally, as Noah indicated, our roles are divided as follows:

  • Sue — costumes
  • Mike — vocals and technical sound
  • Christian — set and crew
  • Noah — director and choreographer (with the most artistic input to the other positions)
  • Kyle — pit orchestra, lights, "producer" (that's the generic title we give the person who's in charge of collecting ads, selling tickets, making programs and other behind-the-scenes work)

But there are some gray areas, and we inevitably end up helping each other out where needed. We usually have a rehearsal or two with cast and pit together — a sitzprobe — before tech week.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson (left) and Grace Rajendran team up as Ariel and Sebastian. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: How do the two of you and Mr. Popplewell decide on which musical to do each spring?

Mr. Pligge: The three of us start talking to each other about ideas or possibilities during the fall of each year. We bring in Sue and Christian on those emails as well to get their opinions. I am the one who usually starts the process, and I go in with multiple ideas and reasoning behind why we should. Everyone then replies with a "yes" or "no" for each show, and we start to nail down a top three. We then have to look at availability and cost and if we have the right kids for the show — i.e., correct instrumentation, students who can play certain parts, abilities for the set design. Then we all vote and pick our winner!

Mr. Rhoades: It's a fine line between "We know who we'll have for casting" and "YOU'RE TYPECASTING MY KID!!!" We go back and forth a LOT before we commit to a show. For us, a spring musical has to meet the following criteria:

  • Full pit orchestration 
    Some shows call for just a guitar and a piano … we need to involve pit kids!
  • Appropriate cast for a small school 
    This means approximately matching a show to our upcoming cast in terms of character, ability and, to a certain extent, pronouns.
  • Appropriate subject matter
    "PG-13" is approachable; "R" material is not.
  • Saleability
    We did "Urinetown" back in 2009 and barely sold any tickets (there's a surprise). "Wizard of Oz" a few years ago almost sold out.
  • Non-repetition 
    We try not to do back-to-back "princess" shows to give kids some variety … but obviously we violated that when we chose "Mermaid" right after "Cinderella."
  • Something staff can live with for three months!
    Putting on a musical is a lot of work and time for very little pay, and if it's not something we can enjoy, we won't pick it. We love most musicals, but it needs to be fun for us, too. I've personally got a fair list of shows I have no desire to do — but I won't publicize that!

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: The ensemble at work. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: Why "The Little Mermaid" for this year's production?

Mr. Rhoades: It wasn't our first choice … but our first choice didn't meet the above criteria, and "The Little Mermaid" did!

Mr. Pligge: I love this show! We have a very young theater program right now as we had many seniors last year. By doing something that a lot of current high school students know, we are able to draw a larger crowd and continue to build the program. Also, it has some great feature parts, many of which can be played by any gender!

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Aaron Timejardine-Zomeño (cross country sweatshirt) is one of five cast members from Elm Middle School. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: How often and for how long do the cast and pit orchestra rehearse each week? 

Mr. Pligge: The cast puts in a lot of time to rehearse. The days vary from week to week, but in general if you are a lead you rehearse almost every day after school until around 6 or 7, and ensemble members rehearse about two days a week for vocals and choreography from around 3 until 7. When it gets closer to the show dates, we all have rehearsal every day from 3 until 7 or 8. Tech week times are 3 until 10, and that is because it is the first time we are putting together all aspects of the show and we need to get a few runs in before we open. The students also spend a lot of their own time rehearsing with each other on group numbers.

Mr. Rhoades: Pit rehearses generally on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right after school until 4:30 or 5, depending on the day.

Q: Cast members audition for their parts. How is pit orchestra selected?

Mr. Rhoades: We check for a pulse! Any student who plays an instrument that can be accommodated in the parts for a given show and attend rehearsals is allowed to perform.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Grace Rajendran (left) and Juliet Howard take flight. Howard is one of the show's dance captains, along with Lexi Nieves. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: In general, how have the rehearsals been going? Any special challenges for your musicians or actors with this particular show?

Mr. Rhoades: We've been a little behind on this show! (And I know I speak for cast and crew as well.) I like to get the pit their books before winter break so they have a chance to practice — and generally they do — but as I mentioned, materials weren't sent on time. We started a bit late, and then with all those weather cancellations we've been playing catchup ever since! This score isn't necessarily any more or any less challenging than previous years, but it's tough to fit everything in with essentially two weeks less of rehearsal time.

Mr. Pligge: Rehearsals have been challenging with this show. The choreography is not easy nor is the music. "The Little Mermaid" is a very popular and recognizable show, and you are unable to hide behind anything you don't know. Also, as is the case for everybody, the cold/snow days off have really put us behind. We lost so much stage time, and trying to make up for it has been nearly impossible since the auditorium is constantly in use by other things. The actors have had trouble with knowing exactly where they are to be on the stage because we have had minimal use of the stage and set. Thankfully the time that we do spend on stage is used to the max.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: More showmanship by the production's hard-working ensemble members. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: Last spring you had a large number of Elm students in the cast of "Cinderella." Are there many Elm students in this year's production?

Mr. Pligge: Last year I was blessed with the amount of middle school students who wanted to be involved. Each of the 8th graders who participated last year decided to continue on in the shows as freshmen! This year I have five middle school students in the cast. After doing "A Christmas Carol" at Elm, many were interested, but only a few could commit to the journey under the sea.

Q: The show dates seem to be a little later than usual. Any particular reason for that besides the late delivery of scripts and scores?

Mr. Pligge: The show is normally around St. Patrick's Day, but instead of having our Sunday show be Daylight Savings, we made it the following weekend. It is basically just the luck of the draw. Ultimately my goal would be to push the musical back to April in order to add a winter show that would be performed in February.

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Sophomore Geneva Webber-Smith gets at the heart of things in this scene. Joining her from left are sophomore Isabella Soto, junior Yasmine Garcia, sophomore Kyla Narayan, junior Nicole Domagala, sophomore Melanie Arroyo and freshman Lucianna Afryl. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: Finally, what performances by your musicians or cast members have impressed you so far? What do you think some of the highlights of the show will be?

Mr. Rhoades: Usually the "impressive" moments don't happen until tech week. It's so hard to inject feeling into what we're doing until all the parts come together! Once we can emote a bit, that's when the highlights begin.

Mr. Pligge: The ensemble has been working their fins off on their big "Under the Sea" number. I have been impressed with their dedication and willingness to step out of their comfort zone. We have a handful of killer tap dancers, and their number is going to rock! I don't want to give too much away, but there are some impressive performances this year!

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Sophomore Quinn Skelly gets in character as King Triton. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Credits | EPHS Presents Disney's "The Little Mermaid"

► Book by Doug Wright
► Music by Alan Menken

Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen
Based on the Disney film produced by Howard Ashman and John Musker
Based on the Disney film written & directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

► Director & Choreographer: Noah Pligge
► Vocal Music Director & Sound Designer: Michael Popplewell
Producer, Pit Orchestra Director & Light Designer: Kyle Rhoades
► Costume Designer: Susan Schultz
► Set Designer & Crew Supervisor: Christian Rosenzweig
► Dance Captains: Juliet Howard and Alexis Nieves

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Melanie Arroyo as Andrina is joined by Nicole Domagala (white sweatshirt) as Adela and Kyla Narayan as Arista. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).



Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson (11)

Prince Eric

Matt Hernandez (11)


Grace Rajendran (12)


Geneva Webber-Smith (10)


Jackie Vargas (11)

King Triton

Quinn Skelly (10)


Koko Hristov (11)


Magnus Shipinski (9)


Olivia Naber (11)


Angel Ponce (12)

Chef Louis

Joe Klockenkemper (11)


Danny Butler (12)


Guillermo Oyola (11)


Allison Wiott (9)


Lucianna Afryl (9)


Melanie Arroyo (10)


Kyla Narayan (10)


Isabella Soto (10)


Nicole Domagala (11)


Yasmine Garcia (11)


Emilio Barajas (9), Urial Delgado (9), Enrique Hernandez (9), Mark Javier (9), Mark Klockenkemper (9), Kevin McFadden (11), Victor Sandoval (9), Aaron Timejardine-Zomeño (8)


Emilio Barajas (9), Danny Butler (12), Uriel Delgado (9), Mark Javier (9), Mark Klockenkemper (9), Kevin McFadden (11), Victor Sandoval (9), Aaron Timejardine-Zomeño (8)


Juliet Howard (10), Konnie Kakridas (10), Kyla Narayan (10), Lexi Nieves (10)


Nicole Domagala (11), Adreana Duarte (9), Yasmine Garcia (11), Konnie Kakridas (10), Kyla Narayan (10), Isabella Soto (10)


Lucianna Afryl (9), Melanie Arroyo (10), Karolina Czerepko (11), Michelle Soto (9)

Sea Creatures

Lucianna Afryl (9), Raya Anabtawi (12), Anna Androsyuk (7), Melanie Arroyo (10), Emilio Barajas (9), Stephanie Beltran (9), Danny Butler (12), Karolina Czerepko (11), Uriel Delgado (9), Jesica DiDani (9), Nicole Domagala (11), Adreana Duarte (9), Emily Furgal (8), Jamie Gallegos (9), Yasmine Garcia (11), Jasmin Gomez (9), Kaylie Gomez (8), Enrique Hernandez (9), Sami Hickey (11), Juliet Howard (10), Mark Javier (9), Konnie Kakridas (10), Anna Klockenkemper (9), Joe Klockenkemper (11), Mark Klockenkemper (9), Kevin McFadden (11), Kyla Narayan (10), Alexis Nieves (10), Lauren Olson (9), Guillermo Oyola (11), Delilah Quintanar (9), Diana Rivero (10), Danielle Roxas (10), Victor Sandoval (9), Elizabeth Schultz (12), Claire Skelly (8), Isabella Soto (10), Michelle Soto (9), Aaron Timejardine-Zomeño (8), Angelica Vale (10), Jocelyn Velazquez (12), Melody Velez (10), Allison Wiott (9), Diana Wittrock (9)

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Sophomores Kyla Narayan (left) and Isabella Soto are in sync as Arista and Atina. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


Ashley Adams (11)

Joey Goff (9)

Jacob Peralta (9)

Mya Calderon (9)

Jasmin Gomez (9)

Rosie Pontarelli (11)

Isabelle Cruz (9)

Matthew McFadden (12)

Jeffrey Slayton (12)

Amelia Ennis (9)

Danielle Mihalo (9)

Will Valiente (10)

Ilana Garnica (12)

Ash Nowlin (11)

Clarissa Varela (12)

"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: Sophomore Lucianna Afryl as Aquata and junior Nicole Domagala as Adela face off while sophomore Quinn Skelly as King Triton and sophomore Kyla Narayan as Arista look on. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


Chalize Aguilar (9)

Jose Hernandez (12)

David Rajendran

Evan Bylina (9)

Ashley Kerner (12)

Angela Roxas (9)

Trevor Bylina (11)

Edward Kerner (12)

Leo Salinas (11)

Philip Chmielowiec (12)

Nicole Kupinski (10)

Lizbeth Serrano (9)

Gabi DeLaGarza (12)

Emily Lutzow (10)

Natasha Striegel (10)

Mia DeLaGarza (10)

Sebastian Macias (12)

Annika Venegas (10)

Claudia Galicia (10)

Jocelyn Mendoza (9)

Renaldo Venegas (8)

David Galicia (12)

Kamil Musial (9)

Adam Vergara (9)

George Gauthier (9)

Nathaly Ojeda-Tavel (12)

Carolina Wozniczka (11)

Michelle Heredia (10)

Samuel Perez (9)


"Little Mermaid" rehearsal

PHOTO: What a show! Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

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