Director Timothy John Kelley II double-cast lead roles in "The Little Mermaid" musical, so more actors could enjoy the limelight.
Bryony DuPont and Kelley Marchbanks, who both portray the evil sea witch Ursula in the Disney classic, have seen many benefits of sharing a role.
"It's made me a better actor, and it's made Ursula a better character by having double-casting and us working together," Marchbanks said. "It's been rewarding to work with an incredible actress who I've learned from."
The musical debuts Friday night at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and Disney's popular 1989 animated film, "The Little Mermaid" features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater and book by Doug Wright.
Kelley, who has acted and directed for community theaters along the Interstate 5 corridor, said he likes to double-cast his plays to provide more opportunities for actors. With 139 people auditioning for "The Little Mermaid" last May, double-casting helped provide those opportunities.
He prefers this approach to using understudies.
"I didn't want to do understudies because there is no fruit in that labor," he said. "You might not be able to perform at all."
In addition to Ursula, the parts of Ariel (played by Bianca Robison and Abigail Spear) and Flounder (played by Emma Nichols and Janessa Minta) were given to two actors.
Each actor provides a different spin on the same character, Kelley said.
"Kelley (Marchbanks) and Bryony are two completely different Ursulas, both very fantastic," he said. "If you go on a different night, it's going to be a different show."
DuPont and Marchbanks knew each other well before auditions. They sang a duet in "The Full Monty" and were both in "Les Misérables" at the Majestic.
They will split the performances. DuPont performs on even-numbered dates and Marchbanks on odd-numbered dates, such as Friday, Nov. 3, opening night.
"Whether you come on an even night or an odd night, you're going to see an amazing cast," Marchbanks said.
Marchbanks said she gives Ursula a lighter touch than does DuPont, and finds humor in the witch's dramatic flair.
"She's a showstopper kind of girl. I play more that kind of element, as opposed to her evil side," she said.
DuPont, on the other hand, plays up the role of a villain.
"Mine is much more evil, but the humor I bring is dry and very deadpan. My speaking voice is much lower," DuPont said.
The pair also add to the character beyond the stage. DuPont made Ursula's costume, and they both contribute to the 90 minutes of makeup application required for each performance.
The musical follows a mermaid, Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton (Aaron Marchbanks). She wishes to live in the world above the ocean and pursue the human, Prince Eric (Jakob Holden). First, she must bargain with the evil witch Ursula (DuPont and Marchbanks) to exchange her tail for legs. The bargain isn't all that it seems, and Ariel needs help from her friends Flounder, Scuttle the seagull (Chad Howard) and Sebastian the crab (Jacob Birchard) to save everyone under the sea.
Kelley said "The Little Mermaid," which he has been at work on more than a year, is the largest production he's directed.
"It takes a village, and we have a mighty village. We have over a hundred people working on this production," he said.
The cast has more than 45 members who range in age from 5 to 65 years of age, including an ensemble.
"The ensemble sounds like a chamber choir. It's awesome," Kelley said.
The director also brought in key people behind the scenes to assist. He brought in his wife, Kimberly Kelley, as vocal coach, Marta Hazecamp as choreographer, Doug Moxley as his co-director, and veteran musical director Jim Martinez.
"I have Jim Martinez, who's probably the best in the business when it comes to orchestras," he said.
Almost everyone in the production wanted to be involved based off of their love of the classic Disney movie and its soundtrack.
"I had goosebumps the first time I heard the orchestra play 'Under the Sea.' It's like I'm 7 years old again," DuPont said.
Audience members familiar with animated film may recognize "Under the Sea," "Part of Your World," and "Poor Unfortunate Souls," but most of the songs will be new to them, Kelley said.
Marchbanks said the stage production will offer all the things people love about the animated film, but there's more to it.
"It is everything I love, plus these new songs and richer characters. And to be Ursula it is just such a fun role with these really great, meaty songs," she said.
Ursula has an extra song that isn't in the movie. It describes her intentions and elaborates on why she became such an angry villain, DuPont said.
"You learn a lot about what motivates her, and she has these legitimate reasons to be as angry as she is, which is really fascinating. It gives us a lot to work with," she said.
The song "Les Poissons" by Chef Louis, played by Spencer Mair, is expanded from the movie, and Ariel's sisters have a song as well. In addition, Marchbanks said, "We've got Scuttle and the gulls that do this great tap dance number, where we get to bring in some of our young actors."
DuPont said the production takes the visual cues from the animated movie and translates them to the stage in ways that are "just phenomenal. It's a very high-tech production."
But the show stays true to the original Disney flick, Kelley said: "Everyone has brought these characters to life from the animated film and have expanded on it in a way I think that does it justice."