Arden Hills resident takes on under-the-sea role in Chanhassen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’
Some actors just can’t catch a break. They work in theater for years, dealing with rejection and struggling to make their “big break.”
Wes Mouri just can’t catch a break, but not in the same way: he’s worked nearly nonstop since he graduated from college two years ago.
‘Fortunate and blessed’
Mouri graduated from Bethel University in the spring of 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and an emphasis on musical theater. Since then, he’s been performing at theaters around town, including the Ordway, Children’s Theatre Company, Theater for the Thirsty and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
“I was very fortunate and blessed to find work right away,” Mouri says.
This season, he’s performing in the Chanhassen production “The Little Mermaid,” where he is part of the ensemble and an understudy for “Jetsam” the eel.
“The Little Mermaid” is an imaginative screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1989 animated Disney movie. It opened on Broadway in 2008 and ran for a year and a half. Mouri’s understudy part is as one eel in a pair of eels — “Flotsam” is the other — whose roles as henchmen to a sea witch make them as twisty in character as physique.
Preparing for the stage
Mouri credits his alma mater for much of his success getting work.
“I just attribute so much to Bethel. They give you the confidence that you can do it,” he says.
At the time the Illinois native started at Bethel, he thought he’d pursue a music education degree; he comes from a family of teachers, and always thought that’s what he wanted to do too.
That all changed when his experience in high-school and community musicals back home propelled him to be cast as the lead in “Brigadoon” his freshman year. To prepare, he participated in a month-long, intensive class that challenged him to focus his skills.
“That was just a taste of what doing theater professionally would be like,” he says of the transformative experience. Suddenly, his life had a whole new direction: “I couldn’t imagine doing something else.”
He switched majors and continued to perform in a number of musicals and plays at Bethel, developing his skills and receiving personal guidance from instructors.
“Wes is one of our really phenomenal both students and alumni,” Meg Zauner, associate professor of theater arts at Bethel, says. “He was always very talented, a leader in the department [and] always had a great attitude and work ethic.”
‘110 percent committed’
His work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed by his current directors.
“Wes is always 110 percent committed to the process,” Michael Brindisi, director of “The Little Mermaid,” says. “A director always appreciates young actors who put the work ahead of ego and are fully engaged in creating the art collaboratively.”
In addition to acting, Mouri does backstage work at Chanhassen, working under the assistant stage manager. That, too is a role for which Bethel prepared him; each theater major is required to stage-manage at least one production.
“That just gave me a work ethic where it’s all hands on deck,” he says.
Finding a place to call home
After two years and too many roles to count, Mouri a far way along from his first “big break.” The young actor seems to have found a home at Chanhassen.
“The Little Mermaid” is his third show at the dinner theater. Prior to “The Little Mermaid,” Mouri performed in Chanhassen’s productions of “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Mouri is excited to bring “The Little Mermaid” to Chanhassen, where the show will also be making its Midwest premiere.
“It has all the magic of a Disney show with all the heart of a Chanhassen show,” he says. “The show is just a huge spectacle in the best ways. It’s going to draw you in.”
Colorful costumes, imaginative sets and a trove of familiar and new songs will engage audiences of all ages, Mouri assures. But the show’s heart, he says, comes from the characters’ search for home and belonging.
“You think that the Little Mermaid will be some fluffy piece of theater, but it’s about finding the place you can feel at home and belong.”
Home and belonging are themes to which the Minnesota transfer strongly relates. Mouri has built his own home-away-from-home in Arden Hills, where he lives with fellow alums and students.
He aims to stay in the Twin Cities for the long-term. Although Chanhassen is a solid stepping stone for actors pursuing a career on bigger stage, the twenty-something thespian doesn’t have Los Angeles or New York aspirations.
“I love Minnesota,” he says. “As long as I have work here and Minnesota family here, I’m happy.”
Previews of “The Little Mermaid” began on February 28. The show opened on March 7 and will run through August 30.
And for all those wondering: “There is real water,” Mouri says, “but it’s not necessarily wet.”