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BWW Reviews: York Little Theatre THE LITTLE MERMAID JR Is An Undersea Spectacular

Tell adults there's a children's play on and watch them wince. Tell them it's an all-child cast and watch them flee - unless they're related to someone in the cast. That's the frequent fate of many of today's "junior" musicals that are great for educating children and teens about theatre, but aren't always great fun to watch for adult audiences who aren't connected with the show.

And then there's the production of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID JR. that's currently on stage at York Little Theatre, directed by YLT's director of artistic services, Rene Staub. Staub, who's also director at Acts of Kindness Theatre in the summer and who's a longtime veteran of the high school play scene as well, knows his way around a stage and about building a set, and also a thing or two about bringing out the best in a group of young performers. But when you're working with a group of young performers with the number of Apollo Awards nominations and honors choral groups that this cast has, that may not be hard to do.

In short, there's a reason this show's been sold out through its ending - it's worth the trip, even for an adult to see it without chaperoning a car full of children. On the other hand, it's an enormous treat to see the children in this audience, many of whom are making their first visits to the theatre, and most of whom, especially the girls, are really properly dressed for the occasion. At the show this reviewer attended, the youth audience was also extremely well behaved, and mostly spellbound during the performance, which was a very legitimate reaction to some excellent youth performers.

It's also a legitimate reaction to Staub's set design. Great construction and the proper applications of day-glo/black-light paints to undersea flora and fauna, as well as some judicious projections, make a really convincing beneath-the-sea set, especially when entering the theatre, and during the underwater production numbers. Prince Eric's ship is also a lovely piece of set construction that has even this reviewer stunned at the excellent work - far less impressive sets have been built for professional performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS PINAFORE.

Amber Emerson, a senior this year, sings, acts, and dances Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, with very fine work in all three areas. There's little to be said other than that it's evident how she earned her prior Apollo nomination. Evan Brooks of Spring Groves plays her sidekick Sebastian with not only flair but with an awe-inspiring ability to maneuver in that cumbersome crustacean costume - he's previously danced his way through a production of HAIRSPRAY, and he's got the moves, especially when hiding from the cleaver-wielding Chef Louis, himself played by an equally delightful Noah Schmitt. Alex Wilkinson, who was a devastating villain in last season's ADVENTURES OF A COMIC BOOK ARTIST, is charming as Scatter the Seagull, another of Ariel's cronies, who is without doubt the finest singing, dancing gull ever created.

Luke Leone, another Apollo nominee, makes a fine Prince Eric, brave, dashing, and an excellent dancer, with some definite chemistry with Emerson. Lane Gross, as King Triton, father of the wayward Ariel, is also a pleasure to see in a major role. Jacob Schmitt plays the last of Ariel's pals, Flounder, with the same charm as Wilkinson and a clear comic bent.

But a special place must be reserved for Georgie DeCosmo, who plays Ursula the Sea-Witch. DeCosmo's got talent, and she's good at evil. Ursula's no easy task, but she's got the chops for the villainous sea creature. With the help of her tentacle-puppeting team, DeCosmo makes the fiendish Ursula look everything from helpful to charming to completely dastardly at the drop of a hat.

Kudos must go not only to the tentacle team, but also to the large crowd of dancers and singers in the ensemble and to the rest of the cast, who took on a big show and brought it to life.

If there is anything to fault with this production, it's the music - a full orchestra sounds wonderful in a musical, but recorded music is never as good backing a live production as even a smaller pit orchestra whenever it's possible to have one. And the sound level for the music here sometimes obscures some of the very talented voices in the cast, especially in the larger production numbers.

Still, the show is a treat, and even this reviewer's dubious adult guest was convinced within minutes of the show's starting of the quality of this production and the performers in it. If you have young children, check with the theatre for any cancelled tickets - it's worth your children seeing this production, especially if they're new to theatre. This production has enough magic in it to sell them on the fun of live performance. It's far better than some adult musical productions that have been produced recently in this area.

At York Little Theatre through September 29 if YLT can't possibly extend this for another couple of shows as they really should. Check with York Little Theatre at www.ylt.org to see if tickets become available.

Photo courtesy of York Little Theatre


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