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BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent

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Running now through December 24th!

BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent It's holiday time in Houston, and that the means big, bold, festive shows all season long! As such, THE LITTLE MERMAID has arrived at Theatre Under the Stars! With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a book by Doug Wright, this production does your favorite childhood movie justice and then some.


Oh, to be back in the theatre. The novelty still haven't worn off yet. Is there anything better than sitting in the reverent darkness in the audience, listening to the overture as you settle into a story? (The answer is no. Bring back overtures everywhere.) So begins THE LITTLE MERMAID, and from there it's full speed ahead!

BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent
Delphi Borich as Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid.
Photography by Melissa Taylor

For starters, this cast is no joke. You've got Delphi Borich-(certified real-life Disney princess) returning to the TUTS stage, this time as Ariel. Then there's Noah J. Ricketts as Prince Eric, giving depth and endearment to the royal archetype (with a voice like butter, I might add). In struts the show-woman Carla Woods, commanding the stage as Sebastian and sporting one of my all-time favorite costumes of the night. Top it off with Christopher Tipps as a Scuttle with swag, Mark Ivy serving it up as Chef Louis, and Christina Wells as the villainous Ursula--and you've got yourself a SHOW. I'd happily pay to watch this crowd do their weekend shopping at Trader Joe's and they'd still somehow make it a knockout.

Not to mention the lively ensemble rounding out the stage with all kinds of undersea life thanks to students from both of TUTS' schools, The Humphrey's School of Musical Theatre and The River. Young talent Lia Zitvar (Flounder) blew me away in the number "She's In Love", and I always love spotting smiles from recurring TUTS students onstage.

BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent
Carla Woods as Sebastian, Derrick Davis as
King Triton, and the cast of The Little Mermaid.
Photography by Melissa Taylor

As expected, "Under the Sea" blows everything out of the water. This oceanic parade is an ode to the costuming team's sharp skill (Vincent Seassellati, Kenneth Burrell, and Colleen Grady). I don't want to spoil any surprises, but it's a delight from start to finish. "Kiss the Girl", led by Carla Woods' Sebastian, is another moment to remember. Both numbers were a kaleidoscope of color, movement, texture, and sound. All the best parts of theatre wrapped up with a bow. And yes, I cried. Because theatre.

Choreographer Harrison Guy's artistry shined in "One Step Closer", as Prince Eric and Ariel moved about the ballroom with both playfulness and poise. It was an unexpected standout number for me; I could have watched them dance while John Cornelius led the orchestra for an hour and called it a night.

Magical moments aside, this show has its challenges because, well, the audience is supposed to believe that the characters are underwater half the time. I've seen this done a few different ways: rollerblades or heelys, an emphasis on continuous fluid movement, and so on. It's hard to say if there's truly a way to accomplish it fully, or if that should even be the goal, but this production's intentionally atmospheric approach pays off. Creating a believable undersea world is indeed a challenge, but one that lighting designers Charlie Morrison and John Burkland confidently tackle alongside set designer Kenneth Foy, wig designer Kelley Jordan, and projection designer Caite Hevner.

BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent
Logan Keslar (Flotsam), Christina Wells (Ursula) and
Blair Medina (Jetsam) in The Little Mermaid from TUTS.
Photography by Melissa Taylor

There's a whole lot you can do with lighting and sound, and to enhance the undersea world built by Foy. Dressed head to toe with out-of-the-box wigs and flamboyant fish-like garb, this production could practically pass as a fashion show. TUTS adds a few tricks here and there for some pretty clever mermaid-esque moments under the direction of Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges. Hevner's ever-fluid projections also add greatly to the undersea illusion (look out for an extra-fab evil Ursula moment as well!). Andrew Harper's sound design was the cherry on top, making each song's experience all the better.

If you're looking for a reason to attend, I'll give you more than one. Come for Christina Wells slaying Poor Unfortunate Souls and her powerful sea witch cackle reverberating throughout the theatre. Come for Mark Ivy as Chef Louis, being pure comedic gold as always. Come for Carla Woods' unwavering comedic intensity as Sebastian, giving stakes to every scene. Come for the artistry of the design team, from wig designer Kelley Jordan's electric Ursula and Ariel's cascading red locks to the bubbly movement and intricacy of Foy's scenic design. Come for The River students onstage having the time of their lives (and bring your tissues while you're at it).

BWW REVIEW: Theatre Under the Stars' THE LITTLE MERMAID is a Timeless Tale Bursting with Talent
The cast of the Disney's The Little Mermaid
from Theatre Under The Stars,
Photography by Melissa Taylor

If there's anything to critique here, it's that you always have to know what show you're walking into. THE LITTLE MERMAID is still THE LITTLE MERMAID, and no amount of epic costuming or sentimentality will change that. If it's not your thing, it's not your thing. It's going to be cheesy, because it is Disney after all. But if you feel the itch to suspend your disbelief for a night and be a child again for a few hours, I'd recommend spending your evening here.

The Little Mermaid runs December 7 through 24 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at just $40, and are available online at TUTS.com, or by contacting the TUTS Box Office by phone at (713) 558-8887 or in person by visiting the Box Office located at 800 Bagby Street.

COVID-19 Protocols:

All guests ages 12 and older will be required to show either proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination, at the guest's discretion, and photo identification. Masks are required for all patrons and staff while inside the Hobby Center.


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