BWW Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID is Making Waves in Jacksonville
The curtain set sail as the orchestra led an overture riddled with recognizable tunes. Two rows behind me, an adorable little girl clad in turquoise fins and a long red wig bounced up and down in her seat, eager for the show to begin. From behind a brilliantly dressed proscenium, Diana Huey popped out through playful bubbles, singing "This is where I belong!" to open the 5th Avenue Theatre's touring production of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Huey, who leads as Ariel, is absolutely accurate in her first lines. Masterfully assuming the role of the stubborn little mermaid with a show-stopping voice, Huey is joined by a stellar cast of theatrical strength.
The plot follows the Disney version carefully, leaving some of the audience nostalgic for their youth, and invigorating a new generation with adoration for a Jamaican crustacean, a love-sick angelfish, and a tap-dancing seagull. Paul Rubin's flight choreography is utterly breathtaking, and the cast and crew's ability to seamlessly work between the stage and the rails deserves recognition. I was constantly in awe of the fluidity and perfection in timing. Outside of a few sound snafus, the show was technically superb.
Sebastian, played by Melvin Abston, earned giggles with every entrance and exit, as he hilariously embodied a crab-like posture with no-nonsense sincerity. Jennifer Allen stole not only Ariel's voice, but my heart, with her fully-committed, villainous cackle. I still don't know where she found the breath for her meticulous phrasing. Flounder, played by Connor Russell, was hopelessly devoted to Ariel, and while I was not sold on that plot development, Russell adorably honored her happiness as his top priority.
When mighty King Tritan, played by Steve Blanchard, decimated Ariel's underwater cave, my little friend two rows back loudly acknowledged the destruction with a concerned sigh and a long, "uhhhh-ohhhhh". I'm with you, kid. Special effects on this tour added a new level of realism and awe. Tonight's chef was played by understudy Venny Carranza, and he successfully served up laugh upon laugh, as his physical humor paired with his sensational timing left the audience begging for a second course.
Adding to the audience's experience is a set so fantastically conceptualized that my inner eight-year-old recognized Prince Eric's palace on stage as an almost exact replica of the two-dimensional mansion burned into my over-watched 1992 VHS copy. I wasn't the only one sobbing through the musical's well known quartet in the second act, "If Only", as the teary-eyed gentleman next to me leaned over and explained that this one, "really hit home".
The 5th Street Theatre reminds audiences through this production that theatre is for everyone, and we are never too old or too young to be a part of its world. There is something for absolutely everyone at this production, and the wonderful staff at the Moran Theatre has beautifully welcomed families in, offering face-painting, memorabilia, and photographs. Tickets are available at www.fscjartistseries.org or by calling 904-442-2929. Playing through Sunday, you do not want to miss the opportunity to catch this delightful production before it sails off to its next city.
photo credit: Mark & Tracy Photography