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Penn Hills' Linton Middle School goes 'under the sea' with 'The Little Mermaid Jr.'

The little things

In musicals, small things can make a big difference. Often, cast members who are in a scene, but are not the focus, tend to simply stand around when they should be performing what is called “business:” background action that helps create a more-realistic sense of place within a scene.

The majority of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” is set underwater, and cast members in the background of scenes could be seen during rehearsals constantly swaying with the “motion of the ocean.”

Johnson said it was something she drilled into them from the beginning.

“We'd have them going up and down the aisles practicing,” she said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The stage at Linton Middle School is reminiscent of an expensive home aquarium.

Towers of what appear to be coral, barnacles and sea anemones run up into the rafters, though if you looked close enough, you would see brightly colored pipe cleaners and green bubble wrap.

Large “rocks” are in the landscape, created out of crumpled paper painted blue, gray and purple.

It all serves as the backdrop for “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” which will open April 4 at the middle school in Penn Hills.

At a rehearsal last week, director Tracey Johnson was in constant motion: making sure the audio tracks were loud enough, attempting to get a stage door unstuck and trying to round up the cast.

“Several of our kids had the nerve to travel to Florida with the band,” she said jokingly, a nod to the smorgasbord of activities in which many cast members are involved.

Beginning this week, rehearsals will take place every day after school.

Up to now, the cast has been rehearsing three days per week, “because so many of the kids are involved in other things,” Johnson said.

“The Little Mermaid Jr.” is an abridged version of the classic Disney animated movie, running about half the length of the full musical.

But shorter or not, it still is a lot of work.

“We started building the sets during the summer, because they're just so detailed,” Johnson said.

“Then we started back up with rehearsals around Christmas-time.”

Two parents and a Penn Hills substitute teacher volunteered to create the costumes, which use eye-catching colors and glittery fabric to create the iridescent look of undersea characters such as Sebastian the crab, moray eel henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam and the little mermaid herself, who will be played by eighth-grader Marianna Wolf, 13.

Though it is her fourth musical at Linton, this will be Wolf's first time in a leading role.

“It's hard remembering all the lines,” she said. “But it helps to have a story that we already know.”

There are 36 students in the stage cast, and more on the technical crew.

“A couple of our seventh- and eighth-graders really stepped up for (the fall production) ‘101 Dalmatians,' so I gave them a little more to do this time,” Johnson said.

In addition to all the rehearsals, set-building and line memorization, cast members also worked hard on fundraising this year, a function of the musical choice.

“We've shifted toward the more popular musicals, but that also means our costs have gone up,” Johnson said.

“We've also lowered the ticket price in recent years, which is another reason we needed to do a lot of fundraising.”

The show will run April 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m., and April 6 at 2 p.m. in the auditorium at Linton, 250 Aster St., Penn Hills.

Tickets are $5, and can be purchased at the door or by calling Johnson at 412-793-7000, ext. 6132.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or



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