GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Stacia Bolitho might just be the Walt Disney of the Roaring Fork Valley.
The performing arts director at New Castle’s Garden School is helping K-12 drama students present “The Little Mermaid” this weekend. The beloved fairy tale, first published by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 and adapted to a Disney animated film in 1989, goes live this weekend on the Jeannie Miller Auditorium stage at Glenwood Springs High School.
“We live far away from Disney World, and I grew up near there, so I wanted to bring a little Disney here,” said Bolitho, a Florida native who teaches writing and drama at the school. “We just want it to be a fun family event.”
The musical features actors who will remain in costume after the show to meet audiences in the lobby for Disney-style photo opportunities amid some of the set’s props. Show times are 7 p.m. Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 23.
“We really want to have fun with it,” Bolitho said. “We encourage the audience, including kids and adults, to come as Disney princesses and in ‘Little Mermaid’ costumes, and just dress up and have fun with it.”
This year’s Garden School theater production has a cast of nearly 60 students, ranging in age from 5-18, who portray such well-known roles as Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, Flounder, Ursula and King Triton. “The Little Mermaid” idea came about last summer as the classical Christian school chose a theater production that best fit with the upcoming school year’s studies.
“We teach in four-year increments, and we are now covering the antiquities, which run from creation to the sixth century,” Bolitho said. “The play has to fit in with the curriculum to help further their education process. The ‘Little Mermaid’ fit into that time period of Greek mythology and ancient history. And we really thought we would have the most fun with it.”
Along with directing the musical, Bolitho is also stage manager for “The Little Mermaid.” She credited the creative work of set designer Steven Rodriguez, teachers Linda Jabbour and Stephanie Smith, and numerous volunteer Garden School parents in making the show happen.
“The set concept I wanted was a pop-up book fairy tale story. It’s really a world of imagination and play for children, so it had to be a lot of fun,” Bolitho said. “The parents have really covered every part of the production. We had dads come in after work with their hammer and nails and help build the set by hand.”
Choreographer Jacqui Edelmann said the New Castle school is known for sophisticated costumes and sets, and “The Little Mermaid” is the most ambitious Garden theater project yet.
“Our sets, costumes and lighting combine to create a magical, otherworldly ocean sphere for our little mermaid and her 60 cast mates to frolic in,” said Edelmann, also a teacher at the school. “The Garden School picks a musical that coordinates with the time period we are studying, and this year we are studying the antiquities. And, of course, myths are a huge part of that era. We have all of our mersisters, eels and swans on Heelys [roller shoes], as in the Broadway version, to simulate the feeling of floating in the sea.”
Bolitho said many of the school’s younger singers and actors have been cast as major characters. She can relate, discovering theater in the fourth grade in Florida and never looking back. She received a bachelor’s of arts degree in communication, with an emphasis on theater arts, from Southeastern University in Lakeland before moving to Colorado and starting a family.
“What’s interesting is there are 9-year-olds and there are eighth-graders taking on really big roles,” she said. “The younger kids have really had time to shine. We just have this huge pool of talent in this school.”
With an emphasis on the arts, the Garden School cultivates creativity in students of all ages, Bolitho said.
“Arts education is a huge focus from the very start. They really aren’t given the opportunity to not be exposed to the arts and not explore their talents,” Bolitho said. “It’s just the culture of the school. There’s music and singing happening from the time they are young. The school is like a real-life musical, where everybody just breaks into song at any moment.”
The spring production continues the musical tradition of the theater-focused Miller family of New Castle, led by David and Renee, who founded the Garden School in 1997.
For two Millers this season, art imitates life.
“It’s fun, King Triton is actually Ariel’s dad in real life,” Bolitho said. “They are played by David Miller and his daughter, Madeleine.”
“The Little Mermaid” also sustains the school’s tradition of donating $1 from each ticket to a nonprofit cause. A portion of the weekend’s performances benefit former Garden School family the Fulks, who relocated from the Western Slope to East Africa to complete missionary work.
“We always try to find an organization we can support, and we knew the Fulks had moved to Uganda a couple years back,” Bolitho said. “We really miss them and wanted to help. We really just want the kids to see the work they do on stage doesn’t end when they leave there.”
Walt would be proud.