Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: High-Tail It To Toby's To Catch THE LITTLE MERMAID

Merfolk, get your tails over to Toby's for their holiday production of The Little Mermaid. It's lively and fun, and a genuine kid-pleaser. It's always a great time at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, and consider building in a little extra time getting there, as you may find delays due to nearby construction and the encroachment of the back end of Columbia's beloved annual Symphony Of Lights display.

The Little Mermaid is generally regarded as the movie that marked Disney's revival after the dim years of the 70s and 80s, when the survival of the animation department, and Disney itself, was precarious. Having had Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" story "in development" since the 1930s, (when the story was 100 years old and considered 'public domain'), Disney's new management brought in Broadway's Little Shop Of Horrors songcrafters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. In 2007, re-imagining the movie for presentation live on stage afforded the opportunity for Menken to create new songs with lyricist Glenn Slater, Ashman having died in 1991. Since then, Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Musical, book by Doug Wright, has been popular with theatre audiences around the world.

At Toby's, dinner is self-served at an expansive buffet- romaine lettuce wisely absent from the salad bar- with show-themed names on the dishes, then the floor is cleared and mopped. A performer welcomes the audience and recognizes groups, birthdays and anniversaries, advises us regarding cell phones, then on with the show.

The show! Opening Overture, hinting at instrumental flourishes of Mike Barber and Kristin Chamberlain on brass and Steve Haaser on woodwinds, finishes, and lights come up on the surface of the sea. It is on the surface (the program helpfully provides locations for each scene) that our heroine Ariel is first smitten. David A. Hopkins, in charge of both scenic and lighting design, really shines in this one. How to create an environment that's underwater with no actual water? Lighting, and smog/fog effects, which are dazzling to behold. The ship is charmingly clever, and the shipwreck sequence, simply enchanting.

The show's ensemble is packed full of A-list Toby's veterans, and not just veterans, STAR veterans- many lead characters from Toby's Mama Mia!, Joseph, Newsies, Show Boat and Young Frankenstein. It's wonderful to see DeCarlo Raspberry featured as Sebastian, as he and the part seem custom made for one another. His silly walk and slapstick comedy are terrific. Taylor Witt and Joey Ellinghaus as Flotsam and Jetsam, respectively, are slithery and graceful, smooth and nefarious every moment they're onstage, and just a lot of fun to watch. Lynn Sharp Spears gives Ursula the boisterous wickedness required of a Disney villain, and, as Scuttle, Jeffrey Shankle is physically amusing and vocally precise. Making his Toby's debut as Flounder is Jacob Hale, so expressive and charming I expect we'll see him again soon.

Director/Choreographer Mark Minnick puts this top-notch talent to work with energetic staging that looks clean and inclusive throughout the show- designing movement for an audience in the round is a significant talent unto itself, and Minnick has plenty of it. Amazing costumes, courtesy of A.T. Jones & Sons, augment, rather than overshadow, each performer despite the impressive size of them. Well-planned sets and hyper-mobile performers are responsible for the show's snappy pace and remarkably speedy scenic changes.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings has great songs and a great cast, so the show is a gem of musical delightment. Your sing-along favorites are warmly familiar, and the new material has legs of its own. "Fathoms Below" is an effective introduction to the human characters in the story, and Ursula's song "Daddy's Little Angel" provides some much-needed motivational backstory for her. "Part Of Your World," the movie's iconic, award-winning song, is spot-on thanks to the vocal prowess of actress Abby Middleton. Leading ladies doing character work as mer-sisters in "She's In Love" are delightful, and "Under The Sea" is a rollicking frolic of color and movement. In Act II, Scuttle and company rock "Positoovity." "One Step Closer," a dance duet that's tender and heartwarming, features emotive singing from Justin Calhoun. "Kiss The Girl," a song the skills of the ensemble guarantees will enchant, proves visually magical as well.

Themes of THE LITTLE MERMAID will ring true for parents, teens, and anyone who has felt like a fish out of water. It's a story of acceptance and inclusion, about a parent coming to terms with a child who doesn't follow traditional patterns. Relationships and expectations grow, with brilliant glimpses of understanding sprinkled throughout. Though the climactic ending feels muddy and rushed, ("book problems," I think, intrinsic to the script), the empowerment of Ariel is complete. This is a feel-good, girl positive show for sure.

This holiday season, give and enjoy the gift of live theatre with your loved ones. How many thingamabobs does your cavern already hold? Joyous moments need only your attention to become precious treasured memories.

THE LITTLE MERMAID plays through March 17, 2019 at Toby's Dinner Theatre Of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, Maryland 21044. For tickets, phone the Box Office at 410-730-8311, or visit their website to buy tickets online.

Photo: Lynn Sharp Spears as Ursula and Abby Middleton as Ariel.

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Drag Story Hour and Makeup Workshop Announced as Part of Outreach For KINKY BOOTS at Olney Photo
Olney Theatre Center has a quartet of programs slated in conjunction with the run of the hit musical Kinky Boots, which begins performances on February 10.

Single Carrot Theatre Closes After 15 Years Of Producing Theatre In Baltimore  Photo
After 15 years of producing vibrant, experiential theatre in Baltimore City, Single Carrot announces its intent to permanently close in the spring. In its 15 year history, SCT has mounted over 60 productions; commissioned and developed numerous new works, organized and hosted community events; participated in three international collaborations; taught in classrooms, libraries, and community centers all over the city; fostered meaningful partnerships with artists, community organizers, and service organizations across Baltimore; and touched the lives of tens of thousands of people through theatre. 

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS 2023 Announced At The Cumberland Theatre Photo
The Cumberland Theatre will officially open their 35th Anniversary Season with the classic murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express on Friday, February 10th.

In addition to its regular Mainstage Season, Way Off Broadway has become known for its special events throughout the year. Notably, its interactive murder mysteries in which the audience gets involved and helps solve the case at hand. 

From This Author - Cybele Pomeroy

Review: Heartwarming Sentiment and Exceptional Performances Prove IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at Toby's Dinner TheaterReview: Heartwarming Sentiment and Exceptional Performances Prove IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at Toby's Dinner Theater
December 3, 2022

Toby's consistently delivers showmanship, production quality and customer service. This show is no exception. The show feels inclusive and accessible even to those whose holiday traditions differ from the ones celebrated by the Bailey family. Bring your family to meet the Baileys this holiday season- the Toby's family will make you glad you did.

Review: Shakespeare's Tricky Dick RICHARD III Proves A Crooked Villain at The StrandReview: Shakespeare's Tricky Dick RICHARD III Proves A Crooked Villain at The Strand
November 12, 2022

The Maryland Renaissance Festival and The Strand partner to present a one-weekend encore of the acclaimed RICHARD III by The Company Of Women. The Company are a force of craftswomanship the likes of which have not before been seen in Baltimore theater, and display a strong likelihood of becoming a major theatrical presence in the community.

Review: Happenstance Theater's POCKET MOXIE at Theater ProjectReview: Happenstance Theater's POCKET MOXIE at Theater Project
November 3, 2022

In a tribute to Vaudeville, Happenstance Theater presents POCKET MOXIE. Structured as a Vaudeville show, it's also a show about Vaudevillians, a secret peek into their lives, and the arcs of their days. Infused with music and humor, artistic creativity and a dash of pathos, it's visually sumptuous, stylistically consistent and imminently watchable.

Stand Up, Dress Up And Show Up For THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW At DoodleHATCH in ColumbiaStand Up, Dress Up And Show Up For THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW At DoodleHATCH in Columbia
October 27, 2022

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, book, lyrics and music by Richard O'Brien, is his homage to B movies of horror and science fiction. This fantastical romp of a musical is packed with archetypal characters, hackneyed tropes and references that should have no resonance with contemporary youth. It's been a cult favorite for its entire half-century existence.

Review: VARIATIONS, a Baltimore Constant, Ponders CHANGE in 2022
October 3, 2022

VARIATIONS ON CHANGE, the 2022 iteration of the longtime Baltimore VARIATIONS project, demonstrates diversity and inclusion in subject matter, participation, cast and production folx at Motor House in Baltimore's Station North Arts District. Audiences choose by vote the 2023 theme of VARIATIONS.