YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - It was packed with saltwater zingers, the silly ones that bring out a chuckle or a groan.

"I'm a bit hard of herring."

"I'll give you my recipe for Hamburger Kelper."

"A sea of fish learning their scales."

"I used to sing at the oyster bar, but that place was a dive."

"If you butter him up, he'll tell you one of his lobster ... tales."

But it was a kids' show, complete with toe-tapping tunes and an upbeat script. Sixty young Yongsan actors brought Little Mermaid to life during two shows March 16 under the direction of the Missoula Children's Theatre.

A Missoula team came to town March 10 looking for budding young actors to do the seemingly impossible -- stage a full-scale musical in six days.

The theatre troupe brings the props, sets, costumes, and make-up -- everything it takes to put on a play. Except the cast. They are picked from community youth.

More than 120 kids auditioned for roles in the play. They practiced every day during the week after school in four-hour sessions, learning their lines, songs and routines.

Said Nikki Haddock, who played Delia, one of the teen mermaids, "It was kind of hard at first, but it's actually easier than you think. Once you go through the lines a couple of times, then you memorize them."

The Missoula version of Little Mermaid follows the general concept of the original Hans Christian Andersen story. Four teen mermaids - Adelia, Amelia, Ophelia and Celia - explore human life on land and share their experiences with friends down below.

The play revolves around the undersea talk among the mermaids, merboy neighbor Gil, and the mermaids' father, Mr. Merman, played by Missoula tour actor and director Kepler Correia.

Mr. Merman decided that on each mermaid's 16th birthday, "each of you shall swim to the surface to explore the world and come back and share their adventure stories."

And so they swam to the salty surface of Sassafras Sea. They hid behind a tree and watched the villagers go about their lives and sing and dance about their life on land.

When Celia, the youngest mermaid, reached her 16th, she and neighbor Gil visited Mr. Starfish, who used his magic powers to give them human feet.

They went to the surface, mingled with the townspeople, and the Prince of the village found his perfect catch in Celia. To eat, rather, not to keep. Mr. Starfish quickly changed them back and brought them back to their homes under the sea.

Taking a line from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Celia said there was "no place like home."

Erin Brierty, a tour director and actor, said the week was "absolutely amazing. It would never work with adults. Kids are sponges, and they are so great at everything. They haven't lost faith of themselves. It's a wonderful thing."

Missoula's concept is to promote healthy life skills in children through participation in performance arts, Brierty said.

"It's a way to build self-esteem, build teamwork skills, build communication skills with children," added Brierty, who has put together more than 120 theater weeks around the world. "I get to see the joy and growth in the kids week after week."

Missoula has 40 teams on the road at any given time, Brierty said, taking their original musical shows to public schools in the United States, while other veteran teams travel overseas.

Brierty and Correia finished their Korea tour at Yongsan, spending the two previous weeks at Daegu and Camp Humphreys. They are now on an eight-week tour of Japan.

Katherine Bloss, who played Celia, never acted before and didn't expect to get a role when she auditioned.

"At first I didn't think I'd be able to do it," she said. "But it just kind of clicks in your head because it's so catchy and all the songs ... they just fit. It was so much fun. I'll probably be doing a lot more."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16