I’ll tell you a tale of the bottomless blue, and it’s hey— to the starboard, heave-ho! Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you in mysterious fathoms below! Come delve the depths of the fathoms below as TheatreBloom goes on an exclusive interview journey not quite 20,000 leagues under the sea, but rather goes “Under the Sea with CCP.” Exploring the principal cast of Charm City Player’s current production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, we start things off by meeting with Chef Louis, played by Baltimore area actor B. Thomas Rinaldi.
Thank you so much for taking a moment to sit with us! If you’d give us a little introduction, we can get started!
B. Thomas Rinaldi: Hi, I’m B. Thomas Rinaldi, I’m playing Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid with Charm City Players. I recently did Bat Boy with Stillpointe Theatre and I also did 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre. That was a lot of fun. That was the character with migrating mole. Left chin, right chin, forehead, nose, that mole was everywhere. I’m glad people took notice, it’s the subtle things that make it fun, you know.
What was the draw to want to come and be a part of The Little Mermaid?
Thomas: Well, I used to work with Pumpkin Theatre. For 20 years we were out at St. Timothy’s School for Girls in the Hannah More Theater. After 20 years, Pumpkin moved on and Charm City Players went into St. Tim’s. Christina (company manager Christina Napp) had called me last year for Music Man, however I was unavailable because I was doing the Toby’s thing. You know, eight shows a week for 13 weeks really took me out of the running for anything else. But I really wanted to get back into that space at St. Tim’s, so I resolved to audition for CCP this season because they were doing two shows that I’m really in love with, Seussical and The Little Mermaid. I came and auditioned for Horton and Ursula. And I didn’t get either role. I’ve been doing theatre in this town for 43 years, I think if I’d been cast as Ursula people would really want to come and see that. Now, I don’t blame Charm City Players, they’re only three years old so they’re not quite ready to take that chance. But someday. In the meantime, that’s how I’ve ended up as Chef Louis.
Now Chef Louis is a plum. He’s human, so that’s certainly a plus. I signed on thinking “Great! I’m getting back into the St. Tim’s location, but then they moved to this wonderful space here at Mercy. And I actually do have some history here with Mercy, generally just dating the girls back in the day and bringing them over to the mixers at the old Calvert Hall when I went to Towson High. Now this space is very similar to the St. Tim’s space, but of course it’s newer, and broader, more modern as it were.
What has been the challenge for you in taking on the character of Chef Louis?
Thomas: Well, the French. “Ah mais oui, ca c’est toujours.” I spent a whole day just saying that over and over again so that I would get it correct. I am French Canadian so that should come naturally for me. There’s a reveal here— I don’t know if I can say too much here— but this happens during the scene when I’m trying to capture Sebastian so that I can stuff him along with the other crabs. And they “depant” me. I think they originally wanted to expose me in underwear that showed hearts, but as a Frenchman, I’m insisting on Fleur de Lis, which is hysterical of course.
The music in this show is amazing. But it’s always difficult because it’s a story that’s well known, it’s lore, really. And then of course there’s the Disney movie, which became an instant classic. Ursula is one of my favorite classic Disney Villains. But you learn this show by rote memorization because you’ve heard all the music from the movie and now you’re trying to transform the screen-animated movie onto the stage. So you have to forget what you’ve learned or “un-learn” what you’ve learned in order to relearn or newly learn what you need to know in order to tell a believable story. That was certainly a challenge because I know the animated film backwards. It’s a knee-jerk reaction when you hear certain parts, it’s almost an involuntary reflex and it’s very hard to do that. But we have a wonderful Music Director, Kathryn Weaver, and we banged out all the new parts.
What’s your favorite song in the show?
Thomas: Of course the iconic bit where Ariel sings her voice away to the witch. Of course, I don’t really get to sing that except back stage when no one is listening or when I’m mouthing it while she’s singing it. Now my song, the one I sing, “Les Poissons”, it tickles, it really does. I’m also in the “Under the Sea” number dressed as a giant manta ray. Now, this makes it a little difficult to do the salsa and cha-cha moves, so you can add that to the list of the challenges. It’s actually like wearing a kite, there’s a rod that runs across the backs of my shoulders to the tips of my fingers. I’m supposed to be doing these extending cha-cha moves, but I can barely lift my wrists let alone my arms up above my head, so that is definitely going to be challenging but a lot of fun. Getting to back up Sebastian, I’m in the number and singing my part, it’s like someone is actively tickling me at the same time. I love it.
If you could be a mermaid, would you?
Thomas: I think I would be Ursula. First of all, I love calamari. I also love Pat Carroll. She gave such a wonderful vocal performance of Ursula that I really cannot get it out of my brain. I would love to be a squid— an octopus— whatever she is, a sea witch. I’d like to be a sea witch if I could.
If Ursula used her magic shell to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?
Thomas: I’d like to see the scene where French Chef Louis has been drowned and he’s like wedged under some coral. And the various sea creatures are feeding on his body, and everyone is happy. I just sort of picture all the little urchins crawling all over him, and little Flounder nibbling chunks of skin off of his limbs. Part of their world: FOREVER. That’s not too terribly morbid is it? I mean, think theatrical with me, you have to suspend your disbelief. He’s human and that big party at the end is under the sea. And what would make all those sea creatures happier?
Ariel’s most treasured possession is her voice. What is your most treasured possession and would you trade it for a chance at true love?
Thomas: I guess it would be the cleaver. And absolutely. I would throw that cleaver away for true love.
What is your favorite human stuff object? That if you could drop something into the ocean for Ariel to add to her collection, what would it be?
Thomas: Hmm. I do like to skip flat stones when I go to the beach. Whenever I find a flat stone I try to skip it across the surface of the water and see how far it goes. Though I’m pretty sure Ariel probably has a lot of stones in her grotto already.
What has taking on this show taught you about yourself?
Thomas: What has it taught me about myself? Hmm. That the theatre community is something that is valuable. It deserves participation.
Why do you want people to come and see The Little Mermaid at Charm City Players?
Thomas: It’s going to be pretty good. There’s a thousand kids in it and they’re really good. It’s pretty amazing. They’ve been on the ball from week one. They’ve actually been showing up the adults. The kids had their stuff down, and the adults were still counting out loud trying to remember their moves. It’s wonderful but very strange how these young people are such professionals. It’s going to be a really great show once us adults catch up with these kids!
The Little Mermaid plays through July 17, 2016 at Charm City Players now in residence at Mercy High School in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium— 1300 E. Northern Parkway in Baltimore, MD. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (410) 472-4737 or purchase them online.