Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre

Featuring immersive special effects, a rousing revitalized score, and a cast of talented actors, this reimagined production from 2016 dives back under the sea.

By: Jun. 10, 2024
Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
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According to a pre-show announcement made last year, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts' spectacular 2016 production of the Broadway stage adaptation of Disney's hit 1989 animated movie musical based on Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy tale, THE LITTLE MERMAID—produced by McCoy-Rigby Entertainment—stands as one of their best-attended, most requested presentations ever in their multi-decade history.

Filled with colorful costumes, vibrant sets, and the awe-inspiring sight of actual gravity-defying "swimming" mermaids that soar above the stage, that glorious reworked regional production definitely wowed audiences of all ages during its run, and continued to do so in subsequent new productions around the country and overseas over the past few years.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, then, that this gorgeously-mesmerizing, visually-stunning 2016 production has now returned in 2024 for its long-awaited local encore—which continues in the city of La Mirada through June 23—in what likely will be another successful, well-attended engagement.

Once again, La Mirada's new production of THE LITTLE MERMAID features the same revamped staging and direction of Glenn Casale that vastly improves on the 2008 Broadway adaptation, but now with a fresh batch of talented actors (save for one key featured player making a triumphant return) and, remarkably, even more visually-impactful theatrics that will surely enchant both new and repeat audiences alike.

Casale's initial mandate, reportedly, was simple enough: rework the original Broadway iteration. To be fair, that original 2008 stage production did receive mixed reactions, despite its undeniable nostalgic properties that combined core elements from the beloved film—particularly the memorable, now iconic songs created by composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman—with brand new songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, with added story elements by new book writer Doug Wright that expands the shorter animated movie into a two-hours-plus, two-act live stage musical.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Leianna Weaver. Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

That's quite a lot to live up to, considering the Broadway adaptation's source material is a much-adored, Oscar-winning film (directed by John Musker and Ron Clements) that still holds up as a near-flawless blend of story, song, and emotional gravitas—an entertaining, endearing perfect storm that had previously long been missing from the studio's cinematic efforts up until that point. It's no wonder that most movie scholars attribute that groundbreaking film as the launching pad for Disney's so-called animation "renaissance" of the late 20th Century, ushering more movie musical hits such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King (and many have since been adapted for the stage as well).

Understandably, Casale clearly sought to create a wholly new, wow-inducing production that looks and feels more visually and emotionally reminiscent of the animated film that inspired it, while also offering a more enjoyable, reinvigorated stage iteration that offers ambitious, more vibrant new visuals and brand new character details that elevate its sophistication for today's audiences.

Thus, in his much-improved version, the fantastical and magical—clearly the show's very Disney-esque qualities—are amplified, expanded, and heightened with clever theatrics and impressive special effects. But at the same time, Casale further improves the show by cutting songs out and by trimming scene lengths here and there, while also reworking many characters' back-stories, behaviors, and motivations to have a more modern, adult-leaning slant without countering the show's family-friendly aspects.

The resulting high-quality, Broadway-caliber show—irresistibly enthralling in just about all the right places—will please fans of the original film while also dazzling both young and adult fresh viewers alike. I will even go further to say that many of the changes enacted by Casale here makes this reimagined iteration, arguably, the most definitive stage version of THE LITTLE MERMAID.

At the center of the show remains the title character, Ariel (here played with appealing charm and admirable stamina by Leianna Weaver), a strong-minded teenage mermaid blessed with a beautiful singing voice, but who also dreams of exploring the human world above.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Dana Orange and Leianna Weaver (center). 
Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

That latter desire is not exactly something that would be approved by her strict, over-protective father, King Triton (regal zaddy Trent Mills), who despises all humans with a deep passion. He blames humans for the death of her wife, Ariel's mother, the Queen, which prompts him to forbid all Merfolk—especially Ariel and her six sisters—from having any interactions with the entire human race, whom he considers all barbaric savages hell-bent in harming any underwater creatures (well, many of them definitely enjoy eating them).

Yet despite warnings from her father, court conductor Sebastian the Crab (the hilarious Dana Orange), and her BFF Flounder the Fish (the adorable Kevin Kulp), Ariel's curiosity about humans is insatiable. She frequently visits the surface—collecting human artifacts along the way—and longs to experience life on land (her infamous song "Part of Your World" makes that very clear for us). Above the ocean surface, she often interacts with a clumsy awkward seagull named Scuttle (the quirky Quintan Craig) who procures human objects for her, often humorously unaware of these objects' actual purpose.

After King Triton angrily finds out that Ariel has been going to the surface—the reason she missed singing her featured solo at an important concert—he assigns Sebastian to watch her closely and report back on her activities. For his part, Sebastian does all he can to persuade Ariel that life "under the sea" is much, much better. As expected, Ariel isn't convinced.

Why? Well, she's got a crush on a particular human boy up top.

What she doesn't know, though, is that her shy pal Flounder has a secret, unrequited crush on her (to minimize this subplot's ick factor, Flounder has been aged up a bit more in this production to be a "teen" just like Ariel). Of course, this information wouldn't exactly be enough to make her rethink who has her heart.

Alas, one night during a rough storm at sea, Ariel ends up rescuing her crush: the handsome Prince Eric (the superb-voiced Coleman Cummings), a reluctant soon-to-be King who would prefer to sail the open seas rather than sit still on a throne to rule over a kingdom. Funny enough, the aspiring sailor ends up falling overboard when his ship sinks during this violent storm.

Of course, heroic Ariel immediately falls in love with Eric as he lays there on the beach unconscious. She sings to him in that gorgeous, signature voice of hers, which he sort of hears as he begins to awaken from his ordeal. She quickly retreats back into the ocean when the Prince's uppity caretaker, Grimsby (Kevin Symons) shows up on the beach and discovers him alive, much to his relief.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Kevin Symons and Coleman Cummings (center).
Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

Understandably, King Triton is furious when he learns of Ariel's continued activities on the surface, exacerbated by his discovery of her grotto shrine of "neat" human stuff, which he promptly destroys with his powerful trident.

Now determined to be with Eric more than ever, Ariel rebels from her father's demands and impetuously makes a dangerous deal with the evil sea witch Ursula (the deliciously slithery Regina Le Vert)—who in this version of the musical also happens to be King Triton's long-lost sister, and who were both kids of the now deceased Poseidon. Her evil, murderous attempts to usurp her father's throne got her banished from the kingdom by Triton, who rightfully ascends to the throne. Ursula, of course, has vowed revenge on her brother ever since—which she plots to do via his beloved daughter.

So, in an unfair deal, Ursula agrees to grant Ariel a pair of human legs—so she can walk around on those… whaddaya call ‘emfeet?… and can exist on the surface with Eric—in exchange for her distinctive singing voice. However, there's a very sinister clause to the agreement: if Ariel cannot get Eric to fall in love with her and kiss her within three days, Ariel will belong to Ursula forever, trapped in her demented garden of wilting souls, writhing in pain and despair for eternity.

And just like that… Ariel signs the magic scroll and surrenders her voice to be trapped in Ursula's magical shell trinket.

This later presents a problem, of course, when Ariel emerges up on the surface world trying to get Eric to notice her as more than just this mysterious (but pretty) orphaned mute girl who washed up on the beach.

With her now unable to speak—or sing—she has no definitive way to prove to Eric that she was the gorgeous-voiced girl who rescued her, and whom Eric now is desperately searching for in order to—eeek—marry!

So with the help of Sebastian, Ariel soon embarks on a mission to get Eric to kiss her within three days or else face the deadly consequences of her bargain with Ursula.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Mitchell Lam Hau, Regina Le Vert, and Christopher Diem.
Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

Beautifully executed with eye-popping, vividly immersive magical theatrics and lovely, exceptional performances, La Mirada's top-notch return engagement of THE LITTLE MERMAID is just, simply, so much wholesome fun. This dreamy, technicolor-hued, escapist fantasy is expertly expressed thanks to Casale's notable revisions to the original stage incarnation. Here, he has succeeded in fashioning an improved, entertaining musical theater experience that recollects the movie musical's nostalgic elements and revels in its seemingly improbable technical prowess.

By far Casale's best, most inspired improvement on his reimagined production is reworking how his underwater characters are presented to a stunned audience who are now believably immersed in this liquified world.

From the noticeable way every sea creature purposefully gyrates to mimic life within an all-fluid environment (a bit distracting at first but you get hypnotized by it eventually), to the high-flying wire work (choreographed by Paul Rubin) that hoisted many Merfolk—especially Ariel and King Triton—above the stage to simulate "swimming-through-water," this LITTLE MERMAID is determined to soar.

These not-so-subtle details of staging and movement, combined with the show's immersive visual splendor, winningly reiterates the production's animated roots with great panache.

As before, the textured set designs by Kenneth Foy and Mark Koss are just stunning, made even better when combined with Charlie Morrison's exceptional lighting design that feels like it was artfully painted on all these surfaces. I especially loved the use of expanded light projections (which I don't recall being so prominent in the 2016 production) that seeped out even more onto the sides of the orchestra level seats during scenes that take place in Ursula's dark lair, creating an ever-encroaching sinister environment that makes things more appropriately uncomfortable and menacing (and hella fun).

The production's full underwater immersion is even further implemented by its overall sound design. The show's music and orchestral score sounds even more incredible via the show's rousing pit orchestra, this time under the baton of musical director Brent Crayon, reviving many of the film's iconic songs to their full-tilt goodness while also showcasing some of the show's newer, written-for-the-stage songs that are (for the most part) seamlessly integrated into this stage iteration. Highlights include the familiar classics "Part of Your World," and "Kiss The Girl" (which, honestly, could've used a larger production number with the whole cast, though), as well as newer songs "If Only," a dramatic, super-emotional quartet featuring Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and King Triton, and the bouncy, super-fun "She's In Love" that had Ariel's sisters singing alongside a very nervous Flounder.

And while it's not particularly the most well-written song amongst the show's new ones, Scuttle's super-silly "Positoovity" provides the show an unabashedly goofy moment of levity, that not only gives a bit of a pause to the darker events that occurred in the prior act, but also showcases some flexible seagulls with surprisingly good tap skills. Not all of the show's new songs, though, are gems, though their inclusion here can be appreciated for their attempt to add some narrative padding.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Jeff Skowron and Dana Orange. Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

The musical extravaganza of score, vocals, and dance in "Under the Sea," though—featuring choreography by John MacInnis—is such a bonafide showstopper (I mean, they had giant jellyfish!) that it alone is, seriously, enough of a great and worthy reason to come see the show.

The show's assembled cast, of course, makes this production of THE LITTLE MERMAID a must-see as well. Aside from the impressive "swimming-while-singing" performances from Weaver and Mills, deserved kudos also go out to the outstanding vocal work provided by Cummings and all the outstanding actresses that played Ariel's sisters: Katie Cruz, Cristyn Dang, Andrea Dobbins, Tayler Mettra, Neema Muteti, and Candace J. Washington. They are, of course, part of a larger ensemble who all collectively made the show so entertaining, marked by their beaming enthusiasm.

Elsewhere, Le Vert is just magnificent as the hammy, evil Ursula, making her rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Soul" another memorable, fantastic showstopper (I do, however, wish her tentacles were much more engagingly puppeteered by her eel minions Flotsam and Jetsam, played by Michell Lam Has and Christopher Diem, respectively).

Meanwhile, Orange's often hilariously flummoxed Sebastian is such a fun portrayal, made even better by his wonderful singing and lively dancing. And, oh… all those facial expressions he makes are just priceless.

And in an amazing return to a role he also brilliantly played in La Mirada's 2016 production, local So Cal theater favorite Jeff Skowron effortlessly steals the show again as he did then with his over-the-top, ridiculously funny second act appearance as hatchet-wielding Chef Louis, whose signature song lifted from the film, "Les Poissons" is recreated with farcical, silly sight-gag goodness. Skowron easily earns the loudest laughs of the night—and deservedly so.

Proving that returning to an audience favorite is a worthy endeavor, La Mirada's encore production of Casale's winningly-revised version of THE LITTLE MERMAID remains a wonderful, dazzling production that vastly improves on Disney Theatrical's own original first try for the Broadway stage. Just like that first 2016 presentation, this McCoy Rigby-produced version entertains and mesmerizes purely because it fully embraces its animated roots and tries to echo everything about what so many loved about its source material in the first place.

Review: Disney's Enchanting THE LITTLE MERMAID Swims Back to the La Mirada Theatre
Quintan Craig, Kevin Kulp, Leianna Weaver and
Coleman Cummings. Photo by Jason Niedle/TETHOS.

For kids and adults alike, seeing a hopeful, lovestruck, angel-voiced mermaid fly through the water right in front of your eyes is as breathtaking to see on the screen and even more so in the flesh. That is a pretty good reason to go.

Photos by Jason Niedle/TETHOS, courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Performances of the McCoy-Rigby Entertainment production of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts continue through Sunday, June 23, 2024. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in the city of La Mirada, CA. Parking is Free. For tickets, visit or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.



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