BWW Review: Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Goes Under The Sea at Wolf Trap
"What if home isn't the place where you were born? What if it's a place you have to discover for yourself?"
Ariel, the youngest of the 7 daughters of Triton, asks this right before she sings her most famous song, "Part of Your World". Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman made their mark with the early Disney musicals, and always included a sense of "home" and "belonging". As much as Disney's The Little Mermaid is a princess-story aimed at the pre-teen audience, it also has a deeper message of being a fish out of water, only in Ariel's case she is a fish in water who doesn't belong.
Book writer Doug Wright and lyricist Glenn Slater joined Mr. Ashman is adapting the beloved 1989 film for the stage. The show opened on Broadway in 2008 and never quite hit the mark and closed just after a year. Flash forward to 2012 and director Glenn Casale came in and reworked it into the magical production that is currently on tour today. Mr. Casale, with the writers, reworked the show - dropping some of the new songs, adding others, and giving Ursula and Triton a stronger backstory. This new, reimagined version, is full of energy, heart, and soul.
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Prince Eric (Eric Kunze) and when I asked him about Diana Huey, who plays the titular character, he said, "She is on point. Crystal clear voice. She is probably a 4'10 bundle of dynamite. Her voice just sails and her voice is just perfect for Ariel and she is too." That is the most truthful statement about an actor I ever heard. Ms. Huey, famous in this area for her Helen Hayes winning role in Signature's Miss Saigon embodies Ariel with vim and vigor. Her rendition of "Part of Your World", Ariel's most famous tune, is pure perfection. Playing a beloved character is a difficult, if not an impossible job, and Ms. Huey discovers her own "home" with the role. One of my favorite lines in that song, Ariel sings (about her father, Triton) "Betcha on land they understand, bet they don't reprimand their daughters." In that one line Ms. Huey gives Ariel a purpose, to help her to find her home, all with a "crystal clear voice."
The dashing prince, played by Mr. Kunze, is equally on par with his costar. He has a luscious baritone voice that just sails, particularly on his Act One song, "Her Voice", which lets the prince have a goal and not just be a one dimensional animated cel. As the villainous Ursula, Jennifer Allen gave a complete performance. Of course, her big song "Poor Unfortunate Souls" was fabulous, but a song written for the stage, "Daddy's Little Angel" was more impressive, because Ms. Allen was able to raise the stakes for Ursula and really succeeded in letting us have a little bit of sympathy for her.
The remaining supporting cast is just as impressive. Melvin Abston as everybody's favorite crustacean, Sebastian, is wonderful, particularly on the final chorus of "Under The Sea" when he just starts wailing. Also, Mr. Abston's physical portrayal of a crab is hysterical. Jamie Torcellini, as the seagull Scuttle, seemed to be channeling Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and was some nice comic relief. At the performance I attended, I saw King Triton's understudy, Dane Stokinger, who sang beautifully. I would also give a special mention to Venny Carranza, filling in for Mr. Stokinger as Chef Louis, who beautifully cooked up a stew during "Les Poissons".
The reimagined production, helmed by Mr. Casale, is flawless. Aerial choreographer, Paul Rubin, helps create the under the sea world remarkably, with the help of Kenneth Foy's perfectly minimalist set, and Charlie Morrison's vivid lighting. In addition, music director and conductor, Colin R. Freeman, not only leads an expert orchestra, but creates some nice vocal moments with the actors, helping them find their own voice.
Disney's The Little Mermaid is a perfect evening for a family. There were many young girls in the audience there, and despite the show ending late, they were captivated throughout. The stage musical does not replace the magic of the film, but it stands alone as a beautiful tribute to the movie. When Howard Ashman died in 1991, just before the release of Beauty and the Beast, the film ended with an epitaph: "To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul." This production helps carry his legacy on, and just as Ariel ponders, it truly does discover its own home.
Photos by Mark & Tracy Photography