BWW Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID is Family-Friendly Summer Fun
Zilker Hillside Theatre Productions presents its 61st annual summer production, DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID. The musical features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and book by Doug Wright. Based on the 1989 Academy Award-winning animated film and original story by Hans Christian Andersen, the show boasts the same beloved Disney characters and unforgettable songs like "Under The Sea," and "Kiss The Girl." Debuting on Broadway in 2008, the original musical ran for a total of 685 performances and 50 previews before closing in August 2009. A revamped version of the production that addressed previous issues premiered in 2012 featuring a new book.
With some small changes, THE LITTLE MERMAID tells much of the same story as the film. Ariel (Sarah Zeringue) is a young, curious mermaid fascinated with the human world above the sea. Something her father, King Triton (Brandon Lozano) is strictly against. After witnessing a shipwreck, Ariel rescues Prince Eric (Travis Everett Gaudin) from the wreckage and falls in love with him. Her father is furious when he discovers she has disobeyed his rules and forbids her from going to the surface or seeing the prince again. Heartbroken and angry, Ariel runs away and makes a deal with her aunt, the evil Sea Witch Ursula (Coty Ross Williams) to become human.
This production, helmed by director Scott Shipman, is pure enjoyment from start to finish. Performances by the large ensemble are well done and energetic. As Ariel, Sarah Zeringue is the epitome of a Disney princess with graceful movements and a crystal clear voice. Alongside Zeringue, Travis Everett Gaudin as Prince Eric also provides a quality performance and excellent vocals. Arguably, the night's best performance belongs to Coty Ross Williams as the delightfully wicked Ursula. Williams is a commanding figure whose powerful voice and presence hold the audience in rapt attention. Other notable performances belong to Grant Pace, Brandon Lozano, Jalal Goggins, Leslie Heathcox, and Matthew Kennedy.
The minimal set design by Ismael Soto is realized with the addition of mesmerizing lighting by Chris Conard. Conard's design adds depth and dimension and helps bring the underwater world onstage. Costuming by Jennifer Rose Davis pays homage to the original animated characters and adds a fun, fanciful touch to the show's aesthetic. Choreography by Judy Thompson-Price is carried out well and fits with the tone of the show. From the show's larger group numbers to more intimate dance sequences, Thompson-Price's choreography is cohesive, lively, and attainable for the performers.
Musical direction by Lyn Koenning is the highlight of the two and a half hour production. Featuring some of the most iconic Disney classics, the show's soaring score is brought to life by the orchestra under Koenning's superb direction. Standout numbers and performances include old favorites such as "Part of Your World," and "Poor Unfortunate Souls," along with new songs "Her Voice," "Positoovity," and "Beyond My Wildest Dreams." Audience favorites include the hilarious "Les Poissons," and the production's show-stopping rendition of "Under The Sea," complete with bubbles cascading down on the overjoyed audience.
In short, THE LITTLE MERMAID taps into the magic of Disney and brings it to Central Texas. It offers family-friendly summer fun that is accessible to all. The memorable songs, enthusiastic performances, and eye-catching spectacle make this summer the perfect time to take part in an Austin tradition that has been lighting up the Zilker hillside since 1959.
DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID is now playing at the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre (2206 Willam Barton Dr. 78746 across from Barton Springs) through August 17th. Thursday through Sunday at 8:15pm. *Accessiblity nights - July 26th and 28th
Running time (approximately): two hours and thirty minutes, with one twenty-minute intermission