In 2007, the first US audiences saw Disney Theatrical’s stage adaptation of the much-loved 1989 animated filmThe Little Mermaid, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale. The show ultimately played over 700 performances on Broadway, scored two Tony Award nominations, and introduced musical theatre star Sierra Boggess, who originated the role of Ariel, to New York audiences.

More than 10 years have passed since The Little Mermaid’s Broadway debut and the show has yet to make its professional premiere in Australia. But thanks to Pro-Am theatre company Birdie Productions, Sydney audiences have the chance to experience a production of the show, which is now playing a limited season at Bankstown’s Bryan Brown Theatre until 22 April.

Starring in the production as Ariel is Jaime Hadwen, a rising star of the professional musical theatre scene, who recently appeared in the critically-acclaimed and sell-out world premiere season of Muriel’s Wedding The Musical.

“It was very exciting to be part of an original Australian production, but also pretty terrifying,” Hadwen tells Theatre Peoplein the lead up to opening night.

“We only had about six weeks’ rehearsal and we actually came into the rehearsal room thinking we were just putting the show on, but we were still workshopping a lot of the scenes. I remember at a five-minute call one day, I got a new scene to read over and have prepared for that night. So, it was pretty full on during previews, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful that I got to make my commercial debut with an Australian show.”

Birdie Productions - Little Mermaid - Grant Leslie Photography

Jaime Hadwen stars in Birdie Productions’ The Little Mermaid (Photo by Grant Leslie Photography)

Hadwen has several theatre credits to her name. Last year, she played Tinker Bell in Bonnie Lythgoe’s touring pantomime Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. The year before, she starred as Kira in Xanadu – The Musical at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre Co and played the title role in Bonnie Lythgoe’s pantomime Cinderella at Sydney’s State Theatre. She also toured Queensland and New South Wales with the ABC and Live Nation for the Giggle and Hoot Live Christmas Show.

Asked how she came to be involved in Birdie Productions’ The Little Mermaid, Hadwen says she was contacted by the company’s executive producer, Rodney Bertram, while performing in Peter Pan and Tinker Bell last year.

“Ariel is my dream Disney princess,” Hadwen says. “I thought, ‘I have to do this!’ It was so exciting! And I’ve known Rodney for years, so it was a bit of a match made in heaven.”

While Hadwen knew Ariel was a role to which she was well suited, she says that it’s been more vocally challenging than she had originally anticipated.

“Vocally, I thought my voice would suit Ariel straight away because I have quite a young tone to my voice,” she explains. “But what I’ve discovered is that it’s actually one of the hardest shows I’ve had to sing. Even though she’s a young woman, the way in which the music is written and the style of Alan Menken … [requires you] to have a lot of rich classical training and rich tones to make the sound work for Ariel.

“So, I’ve had to go back to one of my teachers and … I did have to do some classical training to get that sound back.”

Birdie Productions - Little Mermaid - Grant Leslie Photography

Michele Lansdown and Jaime Hadwen in Birdie Productions’ The Little Mermaid (Photo by Grant Leslie Photography)

Hadwen has thoroughly enjoyed working with her cast mates on The Little Mermaid.

“It’s just been so great and the bonds I’ve made with the cast are brilliant,” she says.

She praises one of her youngest cast mates, Kai Lloyd-Jones, who plays the role of Flounder.

“I was actually in tears in rehearsal because he just brings such a beautiful innocence to the role of Flounder, and he’s such a good actor,” Hadwen says. “I was just completely taken by him and I had to stop the scene because I was tearing up because he made me feel so proud and happy for him. He’s really good.”

Hadwen talks about her experience working in a Pro-Am production.

“What I love about this environment, the pro-am world, is that … they want to do the best show they can do, but they’re also so willing to have a good time,” she says. “A lot of people are giving up two to three days a week unpaid to do the show, and they’re giving up their time for this passion and this love, which almost makes me want to do it more in this sort of world because some professionals are getting paid big bucks and they may not put in that time and effort or show that sort of respect to the industry.”

Birdie Productions - Little Mermaid - Grant Leslie Photography

Jaime Hadwen and Tom Ragen in Birdie Productions’ The Little Mermaid (Photo by Grant Leslie Photography)

Talking about the production itself, Hadwen singles out two numbers that she’s particularly excited for audiences to see.

“Kiss the girl’ is one of them,” she says. “That is going to look spectacular with the props and set that we’ve got.

“Also, there’s ‘Les Poissons’, which is hilarious. Dave Collins is playing the French chef, and he and I went to uni together … I get to watch a little bit of that on stage, which is really fun!”

Hadwen says she’s been blown away by the show the Birdie Productions team has created.

“I didn’t know what to expect … and on day one or two of rehearsals, getting to look at the costumes and the set design, I thought, ‘This is actually so much bigger than I expected!’

“The costumes look amazing, and we’ve got make up designers and wig designers who are putting a lot of effort and funds into this show, and I think it’s going to blow everyone away.”



Dates: Playing now until 22 April, 2018
Venue: Bryan Brown Theatre, Bankstown
Ticket prices: Adult- $42.50; Concession- $37.50; Children- $22.50; Groups 10+- $37.50; Family (2 Adults, 2 Children)- $110
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