Interview: Chatting With Taavon Gamble, Director and Choreographer of Reagle Music Theatre's Staging of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID

Musical runs July 28 through August 6 at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham

By: Jul. 25, 2023
Interview: Chatting With Taavon Gamble, Director and Choreographer of Reagle Music Theatre's Staging of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID
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Interview: Chatting With Taavon Gamble, Director and Choreographer of Reagle Music Theatre's Staging of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID

There was “The Summer of ’42,” then “The Summer of ’69,” but this is definitely the summer of Taavon Gamble.

The actor, director, choreographer, and educator kicked it off in May with a smash-hit production of the musical “The Prom” at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company, which he choreographed to the high-energy hilt. And while his choreography was dazzling Boston audiences, Gamble was on stage in Providence, R.I., as Anthony Hope in the Trinity Rep production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Beginning July 28 at Waltham’s Robinson Theatre, Gamble’s sure-bet talents as a choreographer and director will again be on display in the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Loosely based on the 1837 fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Mermaid” tells the story of Ariel, a teenage mermaid princess who dreams of becoming human and falls in love with a human prince named Eric, leading her to make a magic deal with the evil sea witch Ursula to transition to human in order to be with Eric.

The Walt Disney Pictures animated 1989 feature-film version of the story is credited with resuscitating the company’s animation division, sparking a Disney renaissance that continues to this day. The film won two Academy Awards – for Best Original Score, for composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, and Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”). The film was adapted into a stage show, with a book by Doug Wright and additional songs by Alan Menken and new lyricist Glenn Slater, which opened on Broadway in 2008. A new live-action film version was released in May.

The Reagle production features Kayla Shimzu as Ariel, Cristhian Mancinas-García as King Triton, Ray Robinson as Prince Eric, and Katherine Pecevich as Ursula, plus Kenny Lee as Flounder the Fish, Jack Mullen as Scuttle the Seagull, and Davron S. Monroe as Sebastian the Crab.

In his Reagle directing debut, Gamble is making sure all the action goes swimmingly on a stage he knows well as a performer, having acted in seven previous Reagle productions including “A Chorus Line,” “The Music Man,” “Anything Goes,” and “42nd Street.” Gamble, who makes his home in Providence, is a resident company member, resident associate, and teaching artist at Trinity Rep, and teaches dance in the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA program. In the coming season, he will direct “La Cage aux Folles” at Trinity Rep, and choreograph “Legally Blonde: The Musical” for Moonbox Productions and “A Strange Loop” for SpeakEasy Stage Company.

By telephone recently, Gamble talked about “The Little Mermaid,” “The Prom,” and more.

Before we speak about your current project, let’s look back on “The Prom,” which your choreography helped make one of the biggest, most talked-about hits of the early summer. Were you surprised by the rapturous reception it received?

I was shocked, to be honest. When I signed on, I had seen the Broadway production and I knew that director Paul Daigneault, as he always does, would want to make it fresh for Boston. I was involved from day one and the whole company was amazing. Paul is a great team-gatherer. He knows how to pull together just the right team of collaborators. He certainly did that on “The Prom” and got great work from everyone.

What appealed to you about directing and choreographing Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”?

I was drawn to do this because it’s a tale that almost everyone knows and grew up with – whether they read the book or saw the original movie. It’s the story of a heroine who’s a freethinker carving out a life of her own, and also speaks to parents who can’t protect their children from everything.

What was your first experience with this story?

My original experience was seeing the first film, and then reading the book. Since then, I’ve seen the Broadway production and, most recently, the current film. Each version is different. It’s always interesting to see new people’s version of the story.

What’s it been like reimaging something from your childhood for contemporary audiences?

Revisiting the original novel as an adult, I found surprisingly different themes and moments of storytelling that speak to me now. Ariel’s search for independence and a life that is her own

collides with a parent’s instincts to protect their children from the world at all costs. Just like King Triton, every parent, at some point, must let their children be free and see the

world with their own eyes – to experience the light and the dark. With this production, I hope Ariel’s journey inspires audiences, young and old, to give themselves and others permission to be brave and follow their hearts.

What makes Disney so important to the enduring success of “The Little Mermaid” on film and on stage?

It’s the brilliance and success they bring to all their movies and shows. Disney productions always have something to teach you. For me, each time you see “The Little Mermaid,” for example, it’s the first time. And you also understand it more each time.

How will the Reagle version compare with other stage productions?

We really want our Ariel to embrace her independence and freethinking nature. Like Ariel, our Prince Eric is also a freethinker. He is also more boyish. One of the challenges has come from the fact that this show was a huge undertaking on Broadway. Disney spent millions on every bell and whistle.

Ours is a very actor-driven, muscular production which invites the audience to lean in and use their imagination to experience the story. Not only are our leads amazing, so is our 15-member ensemble, who are working hard and making the magic happen through ballet and movement passages.

Photo of Taavon Gamble courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston.




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