BWW REVIEW: THE LITTLE MERMAID IS IN FINE VOICE AT NSMT
Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater; book by Doug Wright; based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and the Disney film; originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions; directed by Michael Heitzman; choreography, AC Ciulla; music direction, Bruce Barnes; scenic design, Howard C. Jones; costume and wig design, Kurt Alger; lighting design, Kirk Bookman; sounde design, Charles Coes; flying choreography, Paul Rubin
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Ariel, Adrienne Eller; Pilot, Daniel J. Edwards; Prince Eric, Bruce Landry; Grimsby, Benjamin Howes; Flounder, Shawn Platzker; Scuttle, Freddie Kimmel; King Triton, Mark Campbell; Sebastian, J. Cameron Barnett; Mersisters: Aquata, Sissy Bell, Andrina, Grace Hardin, Arista, Rachel Fairbanks, Atina, Stephanie Moskal, Adella, Carlynn Laurie, Allana, Emmy Ritchie; Flotsam, Jeremy Pasha; Jetsam, Paul Louis Lessard; Ursula, Kecia Lewis; Gulls, Michael McCrary, Sam Seferian, Lucas Thompson; Chef Louis, David Scott Purdy
Performances and Tickets:
Now through July 27, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, Mass. Tickets are $50-$75 and are available online at www.nsmt.org or by calling the Box Office at 978-232-7200. NOTE: North Shore Music Theatre has added several performances. Please check the website for more information.
North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is presenting the New England premiere of Disney's much-loved THE LITTLE MERMAID through July 27, and it's just the right, light summer fare for families to enjoy after a fun day at the beach. Revamped and retrofitted for regional theaters after the overblown Broadway production sank under its own weight, this lovely musical retelling of the original Hans Christian Andersen tale (and the Disney animated film based on it) floats along buoyantly upon familiar tunes, clever costuming and design elements, and strong performances by the entire cast.
NSMT creates two distinct worlds for the denizens of THE LITTLE MERMAID: one a shimmering, colorful undersea paradise from which the mermaid Ariel (a sparkling Adrienne Eller) longs to escape; the other the sun-drenched, raucous "world above" whose mysterious humans both fascinate and frighten the creatures below. When the handsome Prince Eric (a silken-voiced Bruce Landry) falls overboard during a storm and Ariel saves him from drowning, their worlds become inextricably connected, with each seeing in the other a path to salvation from places in which neither feels at home.
Eric is haunted by Ariel's beautiful, siren-like voice and vows to find her by listening for her song. Ariel, meanwhile, is forbidden by her father, King Triton (a stern Mark Campbell), from returning to Eric and the dangerous world above. Determined nevertheless to see what it's like to be human and reunite with her love, Ariel defies her father and seeks the help of her powerful aunt Ursula (the show-stopping Kecia Lewis), an exiled evil sea witch who is only too happy to grant Ariel's wishes - for a price. That price is Ariel's mesmerizing voice, which Ursula locks away for herself in a magical oyster shell orb.
Now finless and silent, Ariel is without the very quality that Eric so desperately seeks. Can this handsome prince see past his obsession and recognize Ariel for the beautiful soul she is inside?
THE LITTLE MERMAID borrows liberally from any number of other Disney reincarnations to tell its romantic fish tale. As in Cinderella, there is a ball ("The Contest") to which all of the princesses in the land are invited in order to find a suitable mate for the prince. As in Beauty and the Beast, servants invite Ariel to "be their guest," as it were, serving an unending parade of fish dishes in "Les Poissons." Instead of two ugly step-sisters, Ariel has six - jealously whining and preening in "Daughters of Triton" and "She's in Love."
No matter, because the talented NSMT cast makes each cartoonish moment ring true and brings freshness to the familiar in a way that is hugely entertaining. Eller and Landry sing passionately and earnestly ("Part of Your World," "One Step Closer") while longing to find their own adult "voices." Campbell is just the right combination of authoritative King of the sea and concerned and loving father ("If Only") while J. Cameron Barnett as Ariel's crab guardian Sebastian gets the whole ocean swaying to a calypso beat in "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl."
Lewis is a tour de force as the giant squid Ursula, slithering, undulating, seducing, and using her devilishly booming belt to sarcastically pity all those "Poor Unfortunate Souls" who bottom feed while she diabolically rules. Lewis squeezes every ounce of irony and humor from her insincere lamentations and enjoys herself thoroughly even as she bemoans her lot as an overlooked woman in a male-dominated world.
Adding to the sea foam froth are the fast-talking seagull Scuttle (Freddie Kimmel); the lovesick skate-boarding Flounder (Shawn Platzker); the sibilant and synchronized twin electric eels Flotsam and Jetsam (Jeremy Pasha and Paul Louis Lessard), who glide effortlessly on heelies; and the outrageous French chef Louis (David Scott Purdy). Benjamin Howes as Grimsby is the perfectly befuddled guardian to Prince Eric, and Sissy Bell, Grace Hardin, Rachel Fairbanks, Stephanie Moskal, Carlynn Laurie and Emma Ritchie as Ariel's Mersisters would be equally at home in California's "valley" as in Disney's deep blue sea.
The first act of THE LITTLE MERMAID seems a tad long for the little ones, but there are enough visual treats to keep even those unfamiliar with the Disney animated film stimulated. The entire score is beautifully sung, and the sound system and 12-piece orchestra are perfectly balanced so that voices sound natural and nuanced.
As with all of Disney's stage adaptations, there's nothing particularly ground-breaking in THE LITTLE MERMAID. Jokes are corny - or, in this case, fishy - and, no surprise, the princess ends up with her handsome prince. But the Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater score is undeniably catchy and the North Shore Music Theatre's production is exuberant and lots of fun.
So leave your boogie boards at the beach and grab your snorkels. It's time to dive under the sea.
PHOTOS BY PAUL LYDEN: Adrienne Eller as Ariel; Adrienne Eller and Bruce Landry as Prince Eric; Kecia Lewis as Ursula with Jeremy Pasha as Flotsam and Paul Louis Lessard as Jetsam; Bruce Landry; J. Cameron Barnett as Sebastian and Mark Campbell as King Triton