Cast, crew excited for Little Mermaid Jr.

SUWANEE -- The long hours are running together, and the cast and crew call the Suwanee Arts Academy a second home. But ask them how they feel as the annual summer production nears, and excitement pours out.

In less than a week -- at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday -- Suwanee Performing Arts will put on a Broadway in the Park production of Little Mermaid Jr. at Town Center Park. For the last two weeks, the Academy has been filled with organized chaos as rehearsals, costumes and sets have been assembled nearly around the clock.

"From last year, I feel like it's my second home," said Erin Caruso, who plays Ariel in the play. "We all help out with costumes, and pitch in. We love this show."

Little Mermaid, Jr. is the sixth installment of the non-profit SPA's annual fundraising event. In previous years, the organization put on Beauty and the Beast, Hair Spray, Footloose, Aladdin and High School Musical. The event costs about $50,000, so the production counts on donations and items bought from the carnival island market.

The production is adapted from the 2008 Disney Broadway production, and will have hit songs such as "Part of Your World," "She's in Love" and "Under the Sea." And that's why creative director Patty Etherton said this one is special to the cast.

"Our cast watched (the original Disney movie) 1,000 times a day when they were babies," Etherton said.

In the midst of sewing and ironing costumes last week, SPA co-founder Beneta Bock Davis said the show's already a success.

"They're bonding and making memories for the rest of their lives," she said.

Etherton agreed.

"By the time it hits the stage, it will be a success," she said.

Ariel will be played by Erin Caruso, King Triton by Jonathan McCravy, Ursula by Rachel Wagner and Justin Hermosilla will be Prince Eric.

The plot follows Ariel as she yearns to leave her ocean home, but must first defy her father, make a deal with an evil sea witch and then convince Prince Eric she's the girl with the enchanting voice.

Hermosilla, who has participated in plays at school for the last four years, said this is a unique experience.

"This is the best cast I've worked with," said Hermosilla, who plans to travel to New York this fall to study acting. "I've never been with a cast like this."

Because the play, rehearsal, costumes and sets take over the Suwanee Arts Academy, there's only three weeks to put it all together.

One challenge is assembling the costumes and sets, Etherton said.

"You're not dealing with normal characters," she said. "You're dealing with underwater scenes, and sea creatures."

"It's a lot of fun," said Brian Wittenburg, who plays Sebastian. "I feel like we've gotten a lot done in a short time."

Along with the shows, there's also a meet-and-greet with Ariel and her friends that begins the festivities each day at 10:30 am in Town Center Park. Tickets are required to be purchased in advance for the event and are $25 per child. To purchase tickets, call the SPA at 770-821-7654.