BWW Reviews: Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's THE LITTLE MERMAID Makes Poseidon (and Disney) Proud
My tiny companion, Mia (she's 5-years-old) is sitting in a chair, staring intently at the stage---as she does when she's completely engaged---watching Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's Midwest premiere of THE LITTLE MERMAID. It's almost intermission. The songs ends, the lights come back up and immediately she turns to me, "it's not finished. When are they gonna finish it?" She was hooked. Get it? Yeah, I went there and you giggled.
As I looked around the theatre, I noticed that she was not alone. Children, adults, even the staff were fully invested in the production happening in front of me. And just like that, I knew that no matter how I felt, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's THE LITTLE MERMAID was a success.
When tackling a production with such a notable title, you will either have great success or great failure. All the elements must align to create the story we all know and love without being a direct replica. I mean, we can all go home and pop in a DVD if we want to see the film version, right? Well, director Michael Brindisi did a fine job of making sure the ship stayed on course. He and his team create a story that appeals to the senses. Under the sea, the world is full of vibrant colors and while on land, we are prone to more well...earth tones and neutral colors. He uses the space to his advantage---warning, actors move through the crowd---by using a wide variety of levels to create various illusions. It's definitely a nice touch.
For me, the strength and heart of the production came from three people. Caroline Innerbichler is fantastic in her portrayal of Ariel. How many little girls (or boys) in the 90s drenched the bathroom floor while pretending to splash on the shore like Ariel during evening bath time? I know I did. It's a dream to be Ariel and that's exactly what she's doing. She is Ariel. She's not acting like Ariel.
And what's a leading lady without a handsome prince? In the film, Prince Eric is kind of useless. He almost drowned. He was moments away from getting married to the wrong girl. He tried to fight Ursula and failed. Yeah, we all knew he'd be a dreamboat if we ever discovered he was real but for all intents and purposes he was useless. In the musical, Tyler Michaels (we love Michaels, click here) does quite a bit more than his film comparison. He has a few solos, and even gets to use those amazing aerial acrobatic skills for a brief minute during the storm sequence. He makes Prince Eric much more than just a pretty cartoon face.
Finally, there's our all-time favorite villain-of-the-sea, Ursula. Initially, I was a little ho-hum about her being well...skinny. Typically, I prefer my Ursula heavy with a side of fierce but like she says in the song, "don't forget the importance of body language" and wowza, Kersten Rodau brings it! Her voice is something spectacular and when she's on stage, she's selling it all the way up to the cheap seats in the back. I could have used a whole lot more of her during the show but alas, she's not the hero which means limited stage time.
While these three really stuck with me as I write the morning after, it isn't to say the rest of cast is not terrific. Scuttle (Jay Albright) makes the most of his stage time (though not a dancer...his comedic chops make up for it), the tiny seahorses are quite adorable, Ariel's sisters actually get to do a little something in the musical version and I MUST give credit to the maid who was forced to deal with a rather uncooperative veil in the beginning of the second act.
By the time the show ended, my tiny friend was more than exhausted but still very happy and so was I. And as we made our way back to the car she said, "we should do this again!" Boom. Success.
THE LITTLE MERMAID directed by Michael Brindisi plays now through August 30th.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen, 952-934-1525, ChanhassenDT.com
Photo credit: (left to right) Flounder (Derek Prestly), Scuttle (Jay Albright) and Ariel (Caroline Innerbichler) in THE LITTLE MERMAID. Directed by Michael Brindisi, musical direction by Andrew Cooke and costume design by Rich Hamson. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.