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BWW Reviews: THE LITTLE MERMAID at Dallas Summer Musicals

Although I don't remember seeing the film of THE LITTLE MERMAID in theatres, I do recall being five years old when the VHS tape was released. Watching on the 12-inch screen in my grandmother's guest room, I'd sing as I played, rewound and replayed the tape for hours on end. The fact that I'd have to wait for years to play my dream role onstage was then unimaginable. Later, when the Broadway production opened in 2007, not only had I not grown into a mezzo-soprano mermaid, but I'd also begun a different job with Disney Theatricals as a manager in their New Amsterdam Theatre. Despite sitting in on several meetings about Disney's plans to renovate the Lunt-Fontane Theatre for Ariel and her friends, I somehow never found myself "under the sea" during the show's brief run. This weekend's performance by Dallas Summer Musicals definitely showed me what I'd missed!

After the dismal New York debut of the classic Disney film-turned-stage show, director Glenn Casale came aboard to play doctor to Disney's newest patient. Casale reworked several songs and plot points, and incorporated the use of flying to create the swimming effect - a detail the Broadway production lacked (opting instead for sneakers with rolling heels on each character). With these changes implemented, the show begin to find its sea legs, as it were, in the Netherlands, Russia, Japan, Canada, and in regional theaters across the US.

Although this revised show, onstage at Dallas Summer Musical through March 27th, is not a touring production, many of the cast and creative team have worked together on several previous THE LITTLE MERMAID productions, including the limited run at Fair Park in 2014. Calling the 26 equity performers "triple threats" seems unfair; singing, dancing, acting, flying, swimming and tumbling in elaborate crustacean costumes belongs in a category of its own.

In the title role is the charming Alison Woods, whose exhilarating vocals and petite frame make her picture-perfect for Ariel. Woods is thoroughly convincing as the teenage princess, and her youthful energy is instantly contagious. There's never a moment that we aren't fighting alongside Ariel as she seeks her independence. If watching Ms. Woods fly/swim across the stage while singing "Part of Your World" doesn't mesmerize you, I'm not sure what will.

Opposite Woods is Eric Kunze as Prince Eric. As a fan of Kunze's work (his performance in the 2007 WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND tour was remarkable), I was eager to listen to this crystal clear baritenor voice sing such added songs like "Her Voice." And Kunze didn't disappoint; his charm and vocals were well suited for the famous Ashman & Slater score. On the other hand, the age difference between Woods and Kunze was a bit distracting to me. It seemed a little cliché that, in the story of a young girl with daddy issues, the man of a mermaid's teenage dream was likely twice her age. Once you can get past that, though, his presence on stage is captivating.

However, it's the bad guys who nearly steal the show, with Tracy Lore, Scott T. Leiendecker, and Jeffrey Christopher Todd as villainess Ursula and her slithery sidekicks, Flotsam and Jetsam. Creatively playing with designers Amy Clark & Mark Koss' imaginative Ursula costume as a prop, the trio impishly depicts the humor and horror in "Daddy's Little Angel," and "Poor Unfortunate Souls". Kudos also go to choreographer John MacInnis for his creative staging, allowing these three creatures to be as humorous as they are eerie.

Although the show's largest number, "Under The Sea" felt slightly dwarfed by the colossal stage, smaller numbers like "Positoovity" and "Les Poissons" (featuring the gut-busting Jeff Skowron as Chef Louis) managed to fill the theatre with laughter and applause.

I cannot directly compare Casale's reimagined MERMAID to the ship that sailed and sunk on Broadway (pun intended), but all signs of success point right in his direction. Even if the stage magic of THE LITTLE MERMAID might miss the high standard set by Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST or THE LION KING (and it might smell slightly more theme park than theatre-classic), there is still rarely a moment where the show doesn't create a smile from ear-to-ear. THE LITTLE MERMAID is the perfect family night out, or fun escape for every kid and kid-at-heart.

THE LITTLE MERMAID continues at Music Hall at Fair Park through March 27th. From March 29th through April 3rd, the production will transfer to Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall. Tickets and more information can be found at www.DallasSummerMusicals.com or www.BassHall.com.



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From This Author - Kyle Christopher West

Kyle Christopher West is obsessed with the arts. Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Kyle trained as a gymnast and dancer where he performed across the East Coast in productions of West Side Sto... (read more about this author)


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