Just as "Beauty and the Beast" needs its Belle, and "Jersey Boys" needs its Frankie Valli, "The Little Mermaid" needs its Ariel.
Gretna Theatre held auditions over the past few months, going over resume after resume, head shot after head shot, but finally found their girl.
It's none other than Amanda Smith.
"'The Little Mermaid' has been a dream show for a long time. I grew up watching it, and wanted to be a princess," Smith said, with a laugh. "I knew Lebanon wasn't far away, so I knew I could get in my car and drive there for the audition."
Landing the part of Ariel may make Smith feel like a princess, but truth be told, she's already had that experience, as she's the reigning 2014 Miss Pennsylvania.
"It's been nothing short of amazing. I know that I'm a different person when I won from who I am now," Smith said via a phone interview. "Be it my confidence or public speaking, not that I couldn't hold a conversation before especially with me being a quirky theater major. I now have self-confidence, and I can talk to someone and have an impactful conversation.
"I felt it during auditions. I'm off of school right now, so I'm not actively learning through the textbook. I walked into the audition, my first of the season, and I felt this different sense of being able to feel the pace than I did last year."
Smith saw the audition online, and although it wasn't a role she had played before, she felt that she was still qualified given the parts she's had in the past.
"I felt good, yeah. While I was singing, I could tell they were looking at my resume, head shot and they seemed interested. I looked up and they said 'thanks so much,'" said Smith. "They asked me what part I was going for, and I said Ariel. Christian (Saint-Girard) said 'I could have guessed.' We were laughing and joking together because it was stating the obvious.
"My whole life I have been type-casted as a Disney cast. It's my voice and my look. You have to be realistic when you audition. I knew if I were to walk in and said I wanted to play Ursula, I wouldn't be cast as her. That's just the fact of the matter. I'll stay in this image for as long as I can. The Disney types are my natural niche, I guess I would say."
But even with the natural fit and the callback she received, she still knew the deck was stacked against her.
"I knew going in that they had their local and their New York City auditions. It's always the hardest part when you are trying to break in against people who have done this on Broadway. I'm non-equity, never done Broadway and still in school, so I went in with low expectations," Smith admitted. "I got the callback, and they let me know they had their New York auditions and they would keep me in the running. I figured it was New York City and they would find their perfect Ariel there with the professionals. I figured I could be an understudy, which I would have been thrilled about. When they called me to offer me the position, my jaw dropped to the floor."
Smith auditioned with a folk song by Marta Keen called "Homeward Bound," that she said is a song that has the same essence of Ariel, but she didn't want to do anything too "predictable" or "princessy."
It worked for the audition, but now she'll have to be princessy in her performance as Ariel, in a place that isn't that familiar to her.
"I'm pretty sure I've been to Lebanon before with my Miss Pennsylvania duties, but I've never been to Mt. Gretna. My parents are trying to get a cabin for the run of the show since they are from Florida," Smith said. "I'm so excited to be there."
Before Smith even came to the Lebanon audition, she checked her schedule to make sure that she was available for the show, especially with her duties as Miss Pennsylvania.
"This is one of those things when I auditioned – I always do this before – I see the runs, schedule and make sure it's compatible. I don't want to waste their time once I do a part. I make sure it's something I can commit to," Smith said. "It worked out perfectly because my duties as Miss Pennsylvania are done June 13. I'll give my crown away, have two weeks to get my life in order and then I'm off to rehearsal."
The soon-to-be junior at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh competed in the Miss America contest in September, but her career goals will focus mainly around the performing arts, as well as helping others.
"I ultimately want to pursue a career in New York City or Los Angeles in performing arts. I'd like to open my own performing arts theater for singing, dancing and acting. With that, I'd like to offer programs for special needs, as well," Smith said. "I grew up with an Aunt that has Down syndrome, and it's difficult sometimes. I've always wanted to own a studio. The whole special needs program developed this year. I got to see a lot of programs and places where families have not been able to care for someone with special needs.
"I just think I also had pleasure of seeing a theater in Pittsburgh with a special needs program. It's amazing to see what it does for them. They open up and communicate, when sometimes they can't verbally. They can through art, dance and music. It's a way for them to express themselves."
"The Little Mermaid" will run at Gretna Theatre from July 9-19.
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