Saturday, December 3, 2016

REVIEW: Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Be a Part of This World

Diana Huey as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)
THEATRE
The Little Mermaid is 5th Avenue Theatre’s second foray into the world of Disney. The first was the workshop version of Aladdin which is currently performing on Broadway. Though completely different shows, it is hard not to compare the two since they are both based on popular Disney animated films. As with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid features all of the songs from the original film and a lot more.

The story of course is about a mermaid who feels out of place underwater and has a desire to see if life is truly greener on the other side of the waves. Disney purists might have a few issues with the stage version of The Little Mermaid (like having Ursula be King Triton’s sister), but need to keep in mind that this is an interpretation of the original cartoon and not everything that can be done in an animated world can be created on stage. However, the 5th Avenue proves that a lot can be done. Many of the characters “swim” in the air and look incredible doing so. All of the actors spend most of their time on stage weaving back and forth to show that they are underwater (their abs must be something else!). The sets and costumes are larger than life giving the actors a “3D” look against a “2D” backdrop.

Steve Blanchard as King Triton
 (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)
Diana Huey leads the production playing the little one. While some may give flack that an Asian woman is playing the role of a redhead, Huey is all Ariel. Her voice is divine and her mannerisms are perfectly animated. The only time that Huey doesn’t seem like Ariel is when she utters the phrase, “Oh my God!” which is something that Ariel would never say. (This isn’t a religious criticism, she just wouldn’t say it and sounds out of place.)

The other standouts include Melvin Abston who plays Ariel’s guardian crab, Sebastian, Steve Blanchard who plays Ariel’s father King Triton and Jennifer Allen as the wonderfully evil, but not too scary Ursula the Sea Witch. Seattle favorite, Dan Stokinger is a hoot as Chef Louis with his big (any only) number “Les Poissons” followed by his attempt to capture Sebastian who has inadvertently wandered into the chef’s kitchen.

On the weaker side, to no fault of their own, is Matthew Kacergis who plays Price Eric. Kacergis is a very good singer but unfortunately, all of his songs sound alike and he isn’t given much to do to expand his character much. However, the show’s biggest grievous error is how poor Connor Russell is tasked to portray Ariel’s sea friend, Flounder. The creators of the show changed the cute little sidekick of the film into a lovesick, clownish and irritating teenage fish for the stage show and his costume is all wrong making him look like a 80’s rocker with polka dot parachute pants. Jamie Torcellini’s portray of Scuttle the seagull is better, but like Flounder, something about his costume is off. Speaking of costumes, Disney could have worked a little harder in providing better special effects when it comes to Ursula. As mentioned, Allen is excellent in the role, but her octopus legs don’t move and so the show makes up for it by having her sidekicks Jetsam (Frederick Hagreen) and Flotsam (Brandon Roach) move them for her creating more distraction than adding to her character.

Matt Kacergis as Prince Eric. 
(Photo by Mark Kitaoka)
One of the show’s improvement over the animated film is a larger focus on Ariels “mersisters” Aquata (Lisa Karlin), Andrina (Kristin Burch), Arista (Brenna Wagner), Atina (Becca Orts), Adella (Amanda Minano) and Allana (Taylor Niemeyer). Like sisters in real life, they are annoyed with the attention Ariel gets but they still love her too which is better than having them all hate Ariel out of jealousy.

Of course, the biggest reason to see The Little Mermaid is the big musical numbers made so famous from the film. Just a few notes from the song, “Under the Sea” got the audience excited. Other songs like “Part of Your World,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl” won’t disappoint.

Jennifer Allen as Ursula, Brandon Roach as Flotsam and 
Frederick Hagreen as Jetsam (Photo by Tracy Martin.)
While more songs are needed to create a proper length for the stage show, most of the new music is fairly forgettable with the exception of the Les Miserable-like quartet scene featuring Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton singing, “If Only” and the toe-tapping spectacle “She’s in Love” sung by Ariel’s mersisters and Flounder.

Still, most of this won’t matter to little ones wanting to see The Little Mermaid live on stage. The show is a good one and most audience members will leave with a bit of a lump in their throat and a song in their head.

For more information about the show, click here.