York Little Theatre presents The Little Mermaid Jr.
York Little Theatre opens its season with "The Little Mermaid Jr." on Friday, Sept. 20. Find out how the theater's special effects will transport the audience under the sea. (York Little Theatre photo)

The first five rows might not get wet, but "The Little Mermaid Jr." at York Little Theatre promises to make the entire audience feel like it's under the sea.

Lighting effects will "replicate the rippling of water," says director Rene Staub. In addition, "we have black lights that will make things glow, like the coral will glow, a lot of the costumes will glow."

Specialized metal cutouts and large fabric backgrounds contribute to the setting with elements that can be difficult to include otherwise.

"We add the ropes to the ship in that way (and) we use projections for the sun and the moon and different things," Staub says. "They're very cool."

The theater is presenting the Disney version of the stage show, which means big musical numbers, humor, romance and one scary villain.

Villainous effort: "I'm not used to being a bad guy, but it's fun. I like stepping out of my comfort zone," says Georgie DeCosmo, who plays the evil sea witch Ursula. "The only thing I don't like is that some of the little kids tell me that they get really scared."

Georgie, 17, has six costume helpers who coordinate the movement of Ursula's tentacles. The enormous costume moves around the stage on an elevated platform to give the role the necessary heft and menace.

"It definitely adds to the effect, which makes it so much cooler," the Hanover High School senior says. "I get to completely change the pace and make people see the dark side of the sea."

The alto has a crowning moment belting out Ursula's signature tune, "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

"I obviously knew the song from watching 'Little Mermaid' all the time as a little kid, but I never realized how challenging it is" as a musical number, Georgie says. "Trying to maintain that devious sound in my voice and sound good is really challenging."

Heroic love: At the opposite end of the spectrum, Amber Emerson plays the beautiful mermaid Ariel, who leaves the sea for the land and falls in love with a human.

"I always wanted to be a Disney princess," says the 17-year-old homeschooled senior. "I like making the character come alive for other people."

To really get into character, Amber has temporarily dyed her hair red for the role and picked up a new skill - skating on Heelys, the shoes with pop-out wheels. The mermaids and Ariel's fish companion Flounder wear the special shoes to give their movement the flowing look of swimming across the stage.

"The first time, it was a little frightening, and it was very amusing for everyone to watch me because I'd never done it before," she says of learning to use the skate shoes. "Once you get it, it's automatic and very easy (and) you feel graceful up there."

Her big musical number is "Part of Your World," in which the young mermaid visits her secret trove of treasures and longs for a life on land. The set replicates the rock formations of Ariel's grotto.

"It's sparkly and everything," Amber says. "I think it's really magical."

Out of the sea: A girl who grew up watching Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," she confesses to being a newcomer to the mermaid's story.

"I had known of the movie, but I had never seen the entire 'Little Mermaid' until about a month ago," Amber says. "They cast me before I had seen the entire movie."

If coming to the fairy tale with fresh eyes is a handicap, it's one she has overcome.

"She's doing wonderful; she's very believable," Staub says. "She looks exactly like Ariel (and) she has a beautiful voice."

With a cast full of the top leading ladies and gentlemen from the local school theater programs and a slew of special effects, the show is a worthy opener for the theater's 81st season.

"We want it to be in the hearts and memories of everyone of all ages. ... With the special effects it'll be just as enjoyable and memorable for the adults," Staub says. "Everyone's so talented. It's just going to be unbelievable."

See the show

Disney's "The Little Mermaid Jr." opens Friday at York Little Theatre, 27 S. Belmont St., Spring Garden Township.

Performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sept. 27-28 and at 3 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 29. The cast will stay in costume after each performance to sign autographs and take photos as the characters. Concessions and themed merchandise will be available for purchase.

Tickets are $17 for adults and $12 for students.

For more information, call (717) 854-5715 or visit www.ylt.org.

- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.