Theater Review: The Little Mermaid

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Take a dive "under the sea" with some of your favorite Disney characters in a whole new wonderful way!

Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Aug. 1 – 6; All ages)
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • tpac.org
Remaining show times: Wed – Thu 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun 1 & 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35 – $80

A wonderfully magical journey “Under the Sea” awaits your family with Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight’s glorious production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

The musical is based on the mega-popular Disney animated film from 1989, which in turn is based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. The Little Mermaid by Disney Theatricals made its Broadway debut in 2008. In 2012, the show was modified with a new book, staging and direction. The fabulous result is the current tour. If you have young children who have yet to experience live theater, The Little Mermaid makes for a spectacular introduction.

A WHOLE NEW LITTLE MERMAID

While this version follows much of the story from the film, it’s not a carbon copy. It incorporates new elements offering a more detailed world. Of particular note, King Triton (Steve Blanchard) and the wicked sea witch Ursula (Jennifer Allen) are brother and sister. This new take allows for a deeper, more fleshed-out storyline of sibling rivalry, giving both characters a more robust back story.

Likewise, Ariel’s story arc dives deeper than a mere quest for legs to walk on land in order to score the cute boy. In this production, the seemingly rebellious teenage mermaid feels like she doesn’t fit in with her underwater world, and she’s insistent on changing her path in life. It’s a theme that resonates with folks of any age. It sends an empowering message to kids that one can alter the course of his or her future.

The cast packs a punch with many members boasting lots of Broadway credits on their resumes. Collectively they bring the Disney characters to vibrant life. The pint-sized audience members on opening night — which included many little girls delightfully dressed in shimmering mermaid gowns — were hooked all the way through.

Diana Huey stars as Ariel, and I can’t imagine anyone more magical in the title role. This is the first national tour for the multi-talented actress. Blessed with an immense vocal gift, Huey sings clearly while showcasing an impressive range with lots of power. Her bubbly personality shines bright, perfectly capturing the whimsy and charm of her feisty teenage character.

Huey’s role is a physically demanding one as well. Part of the new staging this production features is a flight harness for Ariel. Many scenes have Huey “flying” above the stage. Her fluid, mermaid-like body movement gives the illusion of swimming underwater. Even while standing on the stage, or sitting on a reef, Huey maintains a regular mermaid motion enhancing the mystique of her character.

Likewise, Blanchard also does some flight work as does Jamie Torcellini with his hysterical rendition of Scuttle the sea gull. In addition, Melvin Abston offers up a top-notch portrayal of Sebastian the crab. Furthermore, Eric Kunze delivers a dashing Prince Eric who carries his own impressive vocal chops.

DEVILISH DELIGHT

The most beloved fairy tales are ones with a solid sinister character you love to hate. The best villains, however, are ones who possess an endearing quality, no matter how offbeat it may be. The Little Mermaid’s Ursula is no exception. Perhaps one of the most identifiable of Disney’s villains, the contemptuous, revenge-seeking, tentacled sea witch  — with her electric eel lackeys — makes for a fun romp through some serious skulduggery.

The fabulous Jennifer Allen delivers a deliciously devilish Ursula in this production. Enhanced by fantastic makeup and costuming, Allen is a crowd favorite. With impeccable comedic timing, she gives her character’s plight a lot of oomph that’s enjoyable to experience.

MORE MUSIC

Kids will enjoy hearing the seven songs they love from the original movie like “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” “Les Poissons” and “Kiss the Girl.” Alan Menken, who wrote the movie’s tunes (along with lots of other Disney favorites) added several additional songs for the stage. Each of the new tunes — including “Daddy’s Little Angel,” “Sweet Child,” “Positoovity” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” — fit seamlessly within the framework of the story. The extra songs add a lot of depth to the tale.

Kenneth Foy’s scenic design, costuming by Amy Clark and Mark Ross, and Charlie Morrison’s lighting all work wonderfully together to present a stunning visual effect succinctly drawing the audience into a magical realm.

The Little Mermaid undoubtedly makes a sensational splash on stage. It’s the perfect end-of-summer treat before the kids head back to school.

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Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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