BWW Review: Happy Ending: THE LITTLE MERMAID at MSMT
"A very, very merry, merry, happy, happy ending...." sings the colorful cast of human beings and sea creatures as they celebrate the wedding of Prince Alexander and Melody in Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark's musical version of THE LITTLE MERMAID. And, indeed, this final 2019 Maine State Music Theatre production in the Pickard Theater proves to be just that! The third Theatre for Young Audiences show which closes another season of spectacular theatre for the Brunswick-based theatre is one of the most ambitious, completely realized productions created by MSMT's intern company.
Robin and Clark's THE LITTLE MERMAID adheres closely to the Hans Christian Anderson original, adding the familiar contemporary spin and little twists for which the creative pair is known. There is a colorful re-imagined cast of fantastical characters, a plot driven by fantasy and romance, and an ending that uplifts with its messages of the positive power of collective thought and human interaction. As with so many Robin and Clark scripts, evil carries within it the seeds of its own destruction and is no match for the redeeming nature of self-sacrificing love. The creators tell their tale with humor and heart in catchy and varied songs that range from jaunty sailors' tunes to parodies of opera to legitimate Broadway romantic ballads and powerful character-driven moments like the Sea Witch's "Finest Creature." And, as always, there is audience engagement that captivates the young and draws them into the magic.
Raymond Marc Dumont ably directs and choreographs the lively production, while Music Director Evan Cuddy (with Keira Teboe and Mark Fredericks) provides the excellent instrumental accompaniment.
The physical production, under the technical direction of Jacob Crosbie, is imaginative and attractive to the eye. Ensconced serendipitously within the confines of THE WIZARD OF OZ main stage set, the scenery by Cameron Delinski (Madison Macdonald, Paints Charge) makes admirable use of the space and avails itself of some of the perks and special effects such as the whimsically illuminated proscenium, the fire geysers, and the flying apparatus. Tiago Rodrigues' props aid the changing ambiance and locales with impressive pieces such as the ship's helm, the Sea Witch's smoky cauldron, and Poseidon's seahorse-drawn chariot. Henry Rodrigues' projections create the contrasting feeling of underwater and land, adding a magical element to the overall look and providing a lovely visual introduction during the Overture. Amanda Fisk's lighting design captures the light and dark moods of the piece, while Hannah Prentice creates the fine sound design. Stage Manager Mickey Acton and her assistant Julianne Graffeo keep all the moving parts on track with expert precision.
Lily Mateus' costumes are delightfully creative and transform especially well human actors into non-human characters such as the tortoise Turtell with his huge shell, the green helmeted frog Bobell, the graceful butterfly Flutter with her lighted gossamer wings, as well as a jelly fish, sea horse, and iridescent fish. Then too, there are the regal attire for Poseidon, the dramatic looks for the Sea Witch in all her disguises, the elegant dresses for the aristocrats, princely garments for the royals, and several distinctive outfits for the heroine.
The youthful cast, comprised of MSMT's performance interns and a company of local actors, gives the production their all, demonstrating strong triple threat talents. Liv Nurmi as Melody, the Mermaid, proves the perfect heroine giving beautifully sung, graceful, captivating performance that suggests the mermaid's transformation. Jonathan Bryant is a regal, believably romantic Prince Alexander who sings the lush melodies elegantly and suggests the youthful passion of the Prince. Cameron Wright makes an imposing, strong-voiced, tenderhearted Poseidon. Alicia Babin successfully manages the split personality role of Seaweed/Victoria, delivering an appropriately devious, powerfully sung account of "Finest Creature."
As Bobell and Turtell, Diego Cortes and Robert Avery Wilson (respectively) make the appropriate odd couple, singing, dancing, and bumbling their way through the sea with comedy and warmth. As Flutter, Nicole Fava is a delightfully animated, ethereal butterfly, and Collins Rush is an adorable Collier, the faithful dog, who gets to shine in his own song with human lyrics, "Bow, Wow." Samuel Allen makes Fogerty, the Prince's Page, the perfect Irishman and demonstrates his polished vocal abilities.
The ensemble is also cast from strength and offers enjoyable cameos: Andrew Carney and Nicholas Hall as tap dancing sailors and festival contestants Joe and Stu; Natalie Bellamy in a parody of a Rococo aristocrat who sings a Handelesque aria; Katie Brnjac as the sweet-voiced Mary Elizabeth; and Ayanna Stover as a sympathetic Sea Horse. All sixteen-cast members, having benefitted from a summer of working together, bring a cohesiveness, camaraderie, and energy that is truly inspiring.
As the characters exhort the audience in the final scene to help bring Melody back to life, asking them to chant, "We believe in magic," followed by a reprise of "Happy Ending," one cannot help but feel a sense of joy and wonder. There is wonder in the sparkling eyes and smiles of children experiencing live theatre at its best and there is much happiness for all those audience members who have had the good fortune to experience another season of the MSMT magic.
Photos courtesy of MSMT, Olivia Coe, photographer
THE LITTLE MERMAID played four performances on August 19 (10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7:30 pm. For information on next year's TYA series call 207-725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org