As a child of the 90s, the classic Disney movies have a special place in my heart. The company's track record of transforming these tales into full-length musical productions has always been met with anticipation of how the magic of the movies will blossom on stage. The Little Mermaid, the current production at BDT Stage, is no exception to the glitz.

The story we all know and love, The Little Mermaid tells the tale of Ariel, the youngest of seven daughters to King Triton. Fiercely independent, and yet also ignorant of the greater world around her, she makes a deal with the sea-witch Ursula to spend time on land in hopes of capturing the attention of Prince Eric, whom she rescues from a shipwreck during a treacherous storm. With just three days, she must do her best to win Eric's love or be forever enslaved to Ursula.

At surface level, BDT's production is fun for the whole family. Parents can bring their children and be rest assured that they will enjoy the magic of live theater. As an adult patron and reviewer, I felt there was more to be desired. In the leading roles or Ariel and Prince Eric, Lillian Buonocore and Cole LaFonte do a fine enough job. They both have simple, clear voices that worked well in portraying a softer side to both Ariel and Eric. Anthony P. McGlaun as Sebastian and Scott Severtson as King Triton both ably stepped into their characters as well. However, among all the leading players, I did not feel that any were fully realized versions of the characters they portrayed, with the exception of Scuttle, played by Bob Hoppe, and the standout performance by Alicia K. Meyers as Ursula. There was one casting choice I took issue with as well. The role of Flounder was cast with an adult male in the role when the songs he sings are clearly written for a female or unchanged male voice. Playing the role was Chaz Lederer, who was consistent and strong in his choices, but even still seemed too old for the part.

On the production side, not all the design choices worked in favor of the production. Set design by Amy Campion was overall pleasing to the eye, but there was a moment towards the top of the show during a scene change that you could see the back wall and metal staircase of the theater, perhaps due to the size of the set piece. In any case, it automatically removed me from this journey under the sea. Costume design by Linda Morken, accompanied by Debbie Spaur's hair and wig design, were a certain highlight. The mersisters especially were each uniquely different and in that way, gave each one a different personality that jumped off the stage. The biggest difference in production design between BDT's mounting and others I have seen was the use of puppets for some of the sea creature characters, such as Flounder, Sebastian, and Flotsam and Jetsam. Designed by master puppeteer Karl Hermanson, the use of the puppets was better in concept than execution. I found their design to be, in a word, terrifying, and outside of the design qualities of the rest of the show. Coincidentally, I loved the puppets used for Flotsam and Jetsam, as well as the audio design (Wayne Kennedy) that enhanced the actors' voices to sound more maniacal.

Overall, the biggest issue I have with this production is the direction by Matthew D. Peters. Many of the above issues I mention could have been addressed and finessed, while other issues seemed like a cognitive choice. One such choice was to have all the mermaids flicker their legs back and forth to make their tales shimmer as if they were gently flowing underwater. It was a clear choice in that I knew what they were going for, but a bad choice in that I found it incredibly distracting. The suspension of disbelief in this show is that they are underwater, among other such examples like fish talking or the existence of mermaids at all. With that in mind, I found this choice of direction to be unnecessary.

Over the years, I have seen and reviewed quite a few productions of The Little Mermaid, and I still have yet to be blown away by any production. Perhaps there is something about this show that doesn't allow for existential growth as an actor and thespian. Perhaps this just isn't my favorite show. In any case, I'd still love to play Ursula someday.

The Little Mermaid at BDT Stage June 1 - September 8, 2018. For tickets, visit or call the box office at (303) 449-6000.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage.

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From This Author Jon Bee

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