Sophomore lands lead role as Ariel in spring musical production of The Little Mermaid

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This spring, Townsend Harris will be under the sea. That is, on an underwater set for the musical production of The Little Mermaid.

After days of auditions for the lead role, sophomore Sally Zheng has been cast as Ariel, the famous princess in this romantic Disney classic. 

 “I’m still in disbelief,” Sally told The Classic. “This has not fully processed in my mind yet. Internally, my mouth is still hanging open.”  

When asked to reflect on her thought process prior to her audition, she said, “I was very nervous. When it was my turn to audition, my tongue started to go dry and I could barely hear my voice over the beating of my heart. I hadn’t had the most faith in getting the role.” 

THHS’s production of The Little Mermaid will not be Sally’s first experience of being in a play. She explained that she has been very involved in junior productions, but has not been in a real show for a long time. As a result, Sally was not hesitant in auditioning for her first high school play, which she expects to be a “​​fresh and exciting opportunity.”  

Sally, along with all her peers, found her results when the final cast list was posted December 20 on the play’s Google Classroom stream. She says she has received a lot of support from family and friends for which she is grateful. 

On choosing Ariel, English teacher Ryan Dunbar, a co-director of the musical, said that it was hard to find the best fit because there were around 20 students auditioning for that role. However, he said that Sally stood out because she brought a new emotional depth to Ariel and fully portrayed her character. He said, “[she] not only captured the internal structure in a very brief audition window but on top of that, showed off extremely impressive vocal skills.”

Sally’s interpretation of Ariel is quite the opposite of the naive mermaid that many people see. “What she wanted more was to see the world, which is understandable as curiosity is part of her nature,” she explained. Sally believed that this intrinsic curiosity resonated with her own personality and mindset. “I want to portray her as such: a determined, ambitious, and curious young woman who just wants to see the world,” she said. 

Sally’s perspective on the role ties into the theme Mr. Dunbar wanted to reveal through the musical: the power of women. With classic fairy tales reimagined into modern remakes in recent years like 2014’s Maleficent, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, 2020’s Mulan and 2021’s Cinderella, viewers began to see a shift in story plots that reflect the change in societal standards. 

“[I hope for the actors to] see the progress we have made as a society in terms of empowering our female protagonists,” said Mr. Dunbar.

Sally credits “Eva Noblezada, Sutton Foster, and Sierra Boggess (who actually played the original Ariel on Broadway)” as role models from whom she draws inspiration.

The production aimed to connect the pandemic we are going through to the overall message of the musical.  “[It is] one of dreaming big and [the] overcoming of hardships,” Musical Director Kevin Heathwood said.  

“The musical forces us to consider the power of our voice and the danger of silence, an especially relevant lesson in 2022,” Mr. Dunbar said.

Photo by Elliot Heath