Ahh, “The Little Mermaid.” Sweet Ariel, her father King Titan, her best bud Flounder and her would-be protector Sebastian. There’s singing, swimming, romance with Prince Eric and, of course, a scary sea witch, but everything will end swimmingly.
That’s “The Little Mermaid” children have known since Disney came out with its version in 1989.
The original 1836 Hans Christian Andersen tale is a lot darker. The mermaid still wants to be what she’s not — a human — there’s still a handsome prince, a widowed sea king and a sea witch, but there’s also a wise grandmother, and the mermaid is told she has to kill the prince to live. Not so much singing or a happy ending.
This is the version Zach Theatre is telling in its production next month. Even though it’s a 19th-century mermaid tale, director and Zach Education Director Nat Miller is bringing technology into this production. It will be something Austin audiences have not seen. Miller is taking inspiration from a production of “Hansel and Gretel” he saw in Denmark.
“It’s pushing the boundaries a little bit,” he says. “It’s a risk, but it’s going to be really cool.”
His “Little Mermaid” is a one-woman show with Megan Richards playing the part of the narrator. With the use of puppetry, fabric and light projections, she plays all the roles. Think of it as the way a child would play all the roles if she were playing in her room, Miller says, except this is a low-tech meets high-tech version on a stage with 130 people watching.
Richards will use a rag doll to serve as the prince. When she’s the mermaid, a projection of a tail will be screened onto the skirt of her dress. The image of the sea witch’s face will be projected onto hers, much like in “The Wizard of Oz.” Fabric and light will turn the stage into a raging sea.
Miller has shortened the story a bit and reworked some of the language but has tried to keep its rich, poetic qualities. It is not a preschool version, and some of the scenes will be a little scary, but “it’s a delicious fear,” Miller says, “one that kids can handle.”
He’s aiming the production for kids ages 6 and up.
With the new theater building that opened last year, Zach has had more space for children’s theater. It recently staged “Goodnight Moon” and “Mariachi Girl.”
Next season’s series is already in the works. “Salt and Pepper” will be done in conjunction with the University of Texas and will be a bilingual show, much like “Mariachi Girl” was. “Holiday Heroes,” the annual holiday show, popular with school groups, will return. Look for “The Cat in the Hat” and a 3-D and puppet “Pinocchio,” as well as a science show, staged by a couple who are clowns demonstrating concepts like energy, force and motion.
For Miller, the goal of children’s theater is about exposing young people to the arts, which creates a future generation of artists. “It inspires them to want to dream and use their imaginations,” he says.
Connecting theater with literature and science also makes it an easier sell for teachers to bring their classes.
Miller knows that children will come to “The Little Mermaid,” carrying their Ariel dolls and expecting the Disney version, but he hopes they will be fascinated with the technology and the storytelling of the Zach version and that they will identify with the story’s core: a girl who is not happy with what she has, but who learns to be selfless to protect those she loves.
“Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid”
When: 11 a.m., 2 p.m. Saturdays, April 6-May 11
Where: Zach Theatre Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey Road
Information: 512-476-0541, www.zachtheatre.org
More upcoming family events
Wildflower Storytime. Hear a story in the Little House with song and dance, designed for pre-K children. 10 a.m. Mondays in April. $9 adults, $7 seniors, students, $3 children 5-12. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 4801 La Crosse Ave. 512-232-0100, wildflower.org.
Zilker Garden Festival. Family-friendly festival with a Kids’ Corner in the Rose Garden for face painting, making dinosaur masks and butterfly wings, and building birdhouses. $7 adults. $3 children ages 5-12. $5 parking. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 6-7. Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. 512-477-8672. zilkergarden.org.
TEXploration Family Story Time. A Texas-themed story. 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. April 6. $9 adults, $8 students, $7 seniors and military, $6 ages 4-17. Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave. thestoryoftexas.com.
Kids Fest and Baby Expo. Baby races, face painting, kids cooking, pony rides, magic show, family yoga. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 6. $5 adults. Free to kids. Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road. 512-827-3378, http://kidsfestandbabyexpo.com/
“Pippi Longstocking.” The precocious girl with the crazy braids comes to life. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays and 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, April 7-22. $10 adults, $8 kids 3-12. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. www.scottishritetheater.org.
Second Saturdays. AMOA-Arthouse offers hands-on family workshops. This month: Recycled Robots. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. April 13. $5 member families, $10 nonmember families. 3809 W. 35th St. amoa-arthouse.org.
“Giselle” family dance workshop. Try out choreography, recommended for children 3-12. 2:30-4 p.m. April 28. Full, but sign up for wait list. $10 per person. Ballet Austin, 501 W. Third Street. 512-476-2163, balletaustin.org.