In the iconic Little Mermaid scene, Ariel belts a well-known tune with pal Flounder adoringly crooning along with Sebastian scolding every step of the way. It’s safe to say that Maple Grove resident Kersten Rodau wished to be a part of that mermaid-inhabited world, but Ariel was not the role she sought. Rather, she found the eight-legged arch nemesis intriguing. “I never thought in a million years that I would be playing Ursula,” she says. The Little Mermaid debuted, for the very first time in the Midwest, last March at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Rodau, clad in Ursula magnificence, has been terrifying audiences ever since.
Not only is it the lovable Disney show’s first time on stage in the Midwest,
it is also one of the first times this particular adaptation has been performed.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ choreographer and vice president Tamara Erickson
says this provided an interesting challenge. “A lot of it was creating it
ourselves, based on the animated feature of course, and being inspired by other
things we could get our hands on,” she says. Many aspects of the show differ
from the movie including Ursula’s back-story. (Little Mermaid super fans, did
you know that Ursula killed her father and six sisters?) “You find out that she
was always the black sheep of her family and her dad never showed affection for
her, he always loved her other sisters,” Rodau says. However, Chanhassen’s
production still has the Broadway show’s colorful characters, including the
bewitching villain played by Maple Grove’s own beloved veteran actress.
Rodau first enchanted audiences in high school. As a sophomore in southern
Wisconsin, her choir director urged her to audition for The Music Man. The
urging worked. To the slight annoyance of her upperclassmates, she landed the
lead. “I knew then that it was amazing and something I wanted to pursue,” she
says. She went on to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she met
future husband Eric, and earned a degree in vocal performance with her heart set
on opera. That is, until musical theater drew her in once again. She played
Cinderella in Into the Woods and found a home in acting. She took on smaller
roles to stay in the musical theater world following graduation until she landed
her big break, a role in Sweeney Todd at the Guthrie in 1999. From there, she
was cast as the understudy for the female lead in Oklahoma at the spot she now
calls a second home: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
Rodau has worked on and off at Chanhassen for 14 years. From the Guthrie to
Funny Girl at the Bloomington Civic Center, to performing with the Minnesota
Orchestra, her roles expand far and wide at theaters in the Twin Cities.
However, when she became a mom (Paige is 11 and Jack is 5) she became more
selective. She now shies away from the pretty princesses and is drawn to
character roles. Her daughter’s thoughts on her mom playing Ursula? She was
thrilled. “She said, ‘Oh mom, the evil parts are so much more fun,” Rodau
Since seeing The Little Mermaid for the first time in 1989, Rodau says she
rediscovered the magic of the story once again.This magic is brought to new life
on stage. The large ship and special effects are gone, putting the story at the
show’s heart. “We are really bringing the audience to use their imagination of
being under the sea and coming along with us on the ride,” she says. The
costumes, including Rodau’s black gown with eight tentacles and a lair with
wheels, add further intrigue. Rodau says her favorite part of her role in the
show is when she appears among the audience members, much to their surprise.
“That makes your night when you know that the kids and adults are loving the
show,” she says. And her “comedic evilness” makes it that much more terrifying.
With Rodau, and a cast that she calls family leading the charge, the seaweed
truly is greener under the sea in Chanhassen.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
501 W. 78th St.
Visit chanhassendinnertheatres.org for show times and ticket prices.