Jessica Turner is a crab.
A talking, singing, dancing, wise-cracking crab named Sebastian.
And she’s a scene stealer in the current production of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at Whidbey Playhouse and not just because she’s dressed in a bright red suit and top hat.
In only her second play, the 14-year-old knows facial expressions speak volumes. When she’s shell shocked by a knife-wielding chef, Turner hides under a table and delivers a hilarious round of grimaces and wide-eyed emotion.
She’s one of many reasons to dive into the sea with the colorful cast of characters on stage July 19-29. The musical provides youth 18 and under a chance to star in a “kids only” production that’s performed every summer at the Oak Harbor community theater.
Haven Lemme, playing the wicked witch of the waves, Ursula, is another young wonder to behold. In her first theatrical production, Lemme is fierce and feisty playing the evil villainous.
The wondrous, wacky costumes worn by various sea critters are a credit to designer Julie Gammache; some were borrowed from an Anacortes theater.
Kristie Griesman’s underwater set that she painted is another reminder of the community’s talented artists who regularly volunteer for Playhouse productions.
Many in the cast are learning the craft of acting through Would-Be-Players, the youth program at Playhouse, while others are new to dialogue and directors.
Lucky for them, “Mermaid, Jr.” director Tatyana Moore remembers opening night jitters as if it were yesterday — she’s 19 years old.
A freshman at Skagit Valley College, Moore says taking to the stage early in life helps develop the next generation of actors, directors, producers and other theatrical talent.
“We just want to get them involved in drama,” she said. “You have to start them young. As long as you keep it a fun environment, they enjoy it.”
Ages range from 7 to 18. So many turned out for auditions that not all could make the cast, which usually occurs in Jr. productions that have many supporting roles.
“The Little Mermaid is so popular that we had to turn away kids,” Moore said. “We had 87 turn out to audition.”
Warren Rogers is also new to the role of assistant director but production is handled by Playhouse veteran, Allenda Jenkins.
“We had about eight weeks of rehearsal,” she said. “They learn singing, dancing, blocking and some basic training.”
Starring in the role that launched a tidal wave of girls named “Ariel” is Ella Langrock who is a gifted singer and memorable mermaid.
Fresh off the stage of Oak Harbor High School, where she played leading lady Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” Langrock said she wasn’t really expecting to land the role of Triton’s daughter who longs for legs and a certain handsome prince.
“It’s so rewarding to work with a wide range of ages in a group,” she said. “Some are in their very first show. It’s a really talented group of kids and they pulled it together in a really short period of time.”
Griffin Stein, playing Eric the Prince, said he watched the Disney Mermaid movie 113 times as a little kid, mostly for the songs.
“I could quote the movie, every word,” said Stein, a 10th-grader at Oak Harbor High School. “When I like something, I just listen or watch it over and over.”
Miranda Abunimeh, playing the squawking gull Scuttle, said “Mermaid” is her swan song at the theater.
“This is my last show with the Playhouse,” she said. “I just graduated from Oak Harbor High School and going to Spokane and Gonzaga University.”
On the other hand, or wing or fin, her 10-year-old fishy sidekick, Flounder, could be swimming local stages for awhile.
“Learning the songs and dances and stuff was really fun,” said Valencia, who’ll be in sixth grade at Oak Harbor Intermediate.
It’s a colorful, playful and precious production of the familiar Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a red-haired, sweet-voiced mermaid named Ariel who yearns for a dry destiny.
By the way, there’s only one little girl actually named Ariel in the play, Ariel Zanin.
And she’s a turtle.
• Whidbey Playhouse Community Theatre presents “The Little Mermaid Jr.” July 19-29. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. matinee. Tickets: $12 adults, $8 children. Available at the box office, 730 SE Midway Blvd, Oak Harbor or www.whidbeyplayhouse.com