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Under the Sea raises the bar on children's theater

By Lacy Hilliard
When one is faced with the idea of attending a children’s theater performance, certain images may come to mind. Perhaps you picture forgotten lines, lopsided costume wigs, and shouted versions of songs about losing a tooth. The Johnson County Young Artists invite you to erase those images and show you what youth theater is really all about.
From the minds of eighth grader Aisia Robbins and JCYA board member Lisa Zeggert, “Under the Sea” is the most recent production showcased by these talented kids. Aisia Robbins said, “Mrs. Z and I just wanted to write our own play and when we sat down together ideas just kept coming.” Inspired by “The Little Mermaid” but largely original, the members of the association began work on this production at JCYA’s summer workshop but continued practicing as often as three times a week to perfect the story and the execution.
The story centers on the mermaid, Alora (played by Abigail Arnett), who spends her time daydreaming about life outside of the ocean. Much to the dismay of her overprotective father, King Perceus (Jacob McGlamery), and her overworked and underappreciated sister, Adalene (Victoria Steagall), Alora spends her days collecting human artifacts found on the sea floor and singing about how much better life on land would be. Alora’s sassy stepmother, Queen Myra (Mandy Wilcox), on the other hand thinks giving Alora her freedom is a trouble saving decision. A twist of fate occurs when the pirate, Jack Black (Bryan Lay) is hurled into the stormy sea as his ship capsizes. Alora rescues him but doesn’t swim around long enough to get the credit for fear of being discovered too close to land. When Jack Black awakens he has a faint memory of his heroine and knows he must do everything possible to find her. He begins his quest by visiting the dancing, singing, and overall colorful Witch Doctor (Lindsey Wills) and asking her to grant him the power to breathe underwater. She fulfills his request and his search begins. As he searches the melancholy Alora mopes around her sea castle, leaving only to pine over her human treasures while wondering if she will ever cross paths with Jack Black again. In case you’re on the edge of your seat by this time wondering what will become of the young Alora and her pirate love, providing comic relief from the drama is Seadrick the Crab. Brought to life by Ty Youngblood, Seadrick is a loveable crab that would much rather be concocting a culinary creation than chasing after the mischievous Alora. But chosen as a kind of crustacean nanny, King Perceus has entrusted Seadrick with Alora’s protection. As he scurries across the ocean floor searching for Alora and delivering one-liners, you find yourself amazed at the advanced comedic timing that Ty Youngblood brings to the table. His costume alone (a full crab suit complete with claws, bulging eyes, and spindly legs) might leave a less talented actor awkwardly struggling to deliver their performance but Ty breezes through like a pro.
Elaborate costumes were a factor in every single character. Between Lord Swordfish (Ian Robertson), a loveable island monkey (Emily Irizarry), a dancing jellyfish (Holly Lay), Water Fairies (Maggie Aldridge, Lindsay Hutchinson, and Aisia Robbins), an octopus (Michael Blevins), a band of pirates (Matthew Harris, Samuel Roark, and Jonathan Wilcox), and Tiki Dancers (Holly Lay, Cassidy Lakatos, Sydney Souder, and Ellie Beth Youngblood), it’s obvious that a tremendous effort was required from parents and actors. Even small touches like tropical flowers in the Hula Dancers’ (Jada Gentry, Madilyn Icenhour, Raven Irizarry, Cindy Jones, and Kiya Moore) hair were not overlooked. Couple the three hundred dollar budget with over thirty actors (many with various costume changes throughout the performance) you start to question whether or not your eyes deceive you as you look upon the intricate kaleidoscope of color that decorates the stage.
Not to be overshadowed by the impressive costumes, the set provided a perfect backdrop for this tropical fairytale. Stage managers Misty Youngblood and Katie Walsh in tandem with backstage helpers Darrin Gray, Greta Burgess, Deidre Burgess, and Tabitha Miller brought both above and below the surface to life with colorful and professional quality set design. Upon entering Heritage Hall you’re greeted by treasure chests and palm trees (provided by the Positive Thinkers), and when the curtain goes up a world of coral reefs, ivory castles, and volcanoes await exploration. The set was modern, grand and vital to the delivery of the story.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.