Stage

TUTS' The Little Mermaid Takes Charge of Her Life on The Hobby Stage

Delphi Borich as Ariel and Noah Ricketts as Prince Eric in Disney's The Little Mermaid at TUTS.
Delphi Borich as Ariel and Noah Ricketts as Prince Eric in Disney's The Little Mermaid at TUTS. Photo by Erick Velazquez
Playing a Disney princess is absolutely not just hanging around and waiting for a prince to arrive although if a good one shows up, that's a bonus, says Delphi Borich who is returning to Theatre Under the Stars to take on the lead role of Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

 "I really love how charming she is and how brave she is. She's always been on my list." says Borich, who also played Belle in Beauty and the Beast at TUTS, says she admires the courage of the characters she's played and thinks they provide strong role models for young girls.

Which doesn't mean Disney leading ladies are all cookie cutter either, she says. "Belle is a little more knowledgeable about the world, not jaded but just a little bit more mature, a little bit more experienced in that way. And she knows what she wants; she's a little more firm on that.  And Ariel, the fun thing about playing her is that everything is really new and exciting. She just has this insane curiosity for the world. There's almost like a naive quality to Ariel that's so endearing and wonderful."

What these lead characters have in common, she says, is that both are seeing to find their place in the world.

Both shows were developed after their animated versions were seen by millions of children over millions of hours which increases the chances for a built-in guaranteed audience. The musical builds on the well known songs from the 1989 film ("Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl") with several other songs. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. Doug Wright wrote the book.

TUTS Artistic Director Dan Knechtges directs while Harrison Guy, director of Arts & Culture at The DeLUXE Theater and the Artistic Director of Urban Souls Dance Company, provides the choreography. Others in the cast of the two-act musical that clocks in at two hours and 20 minutes (including intermission) include Christina Wells (TUTS productions of All Shook Up and Seussical) as Ursula and Carla Woods (TUTS' 2019 production of Mamma Mia!) as Sebastian. Noah Ricketts of the Broadway production of Disney’s Frozen will play Prince Eric.

Audiences should not expect a carbon copy of the animated film version. Besides the additional songs, some lines have been assigned to other characters; some back stories have changed; there are some new characters while others from the movie don't make an appearance here.

Borich is also a role model for her fellow Asian Americans, representing them in roles that haven't traditionally gone to an actress like her. "It’s never lost on me how important it is and the responsibility that I hold. One of my favorite moments in doing Beauty and The Beast a couple years ago was we got to be in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Houston is a very, very diverse city. When I was on the float getting to see all the faces of the little girls who were little girls of color, girls who looked like me and growing up I never had that and so getting to be that for someone is so important to me.

"I always always want to encourage actors of color to really go for the roles they haven't seen themselves in before. I'm not the first. I follow in the footsteps of incredible Asian American actors who have played Ariel like Diana Huey in particular. She was just in Rock of Ages as the lead at TUTS. She was Ariel on the tour a few years ago."

Borich's father shared his love of musicals with her from her earliest days. "I grew up watching old movie musicals like 'Singing in the Rain and White Christmas."  The thing about musicals, the thing about music in general is that it makes people feel in ways that can't be described, she says.

"That's why I think musicals will never die. In order for musicals to keep surviving and thriving, I think more musicals need to be written about society as it is now. People as we are now — including diversity, including different groups of people who are underrepresented. Musicals need to reflect how the world looks today, not how they looked 50-60 years ago."

She was lucky enough to go to a high school that put an emphasis on the performing arts. "I wouldn't be the person I am today; I wouldn't have the confidence in myself without the arts program at my high school.  Kids need a creative outlet. Kids need a place to express themselves if that's how they want to express themselves. And funding for the arts is absolutely crucial for that. It can save lives. I really do believe that, especially in high school.

Asked why people should buy tickets for this show, Borich says:

"I would tell people to come to this production because we’ve had two plus years of feeling down, second guessing ourselves, second guessing everything that's going on in our lives and the world. We need a release. Even if it's just for a night."

Performances are scheduled for December 7-24 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Masks required as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination for all guests 12 and older.  For more information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $40-$136.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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