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BWW Review: THE LITTLE MERMAID Ebbs and Swells at the Rose Theater

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I must have taken THE LITTLE MERMAID out of its hard plastic case and slipped it into the VCR at least a hundred times when my kids were small. I know the story. I love the story. It is hard not to compare a production with the original. I want it to be the same, but I want to anticipate some surprises. So, this musical is a series of ebbs and swells for me.

THE LITTLE MERMAID film, based on Hans Christian Andersen's story of a mermaid who finds love in the world above the sea, was released by Disney in 1989. It is considered to be the animated film that brought Broadway into cartoons. With music by the well-known Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater, and book by Doug Wright, the musical first tried its wings in Denver. Broadway previews followed in 2007. The show officially opened in 2008 and closed in 2009, but not before kick-starting Sierra Boggess into Broadway floodlights with the title role.

Directed by Matthew Gutshick, this cast of THE LITTLE MERMAID turns the old world ambience of the Rose Theater into a watery world of imagination. Torisa Walker and Marcel A. Daley as Ariel and her Prince Eric have undeniable gifts. Their voices are strong and sure, resonant and pleasing. Were Walker's vocals a little too mature to be the voice of the young Ariel? Perhaps. But that opinion could be the result of having listened to Jodi Benson's Ariel so many times. Daley is a handsome prince with a princely voice. I would have liked to have gotten to know Eric better.

I love the slithery gangsters of the undersea: Flotsam and Jetsam! Their dark suits with their lighted up fingertips, their creeping movements, and their whole personas are wickedly delightful. Their harmony in "Sweet Child" is chilling. Flotsam (Joseph T. O'Connor) and Jetsam (Jonathan Smith) perfectly compliment the evil queen of the undersea, Ursula (Heather Wilhem). Wilhem bellows her best in "Poor Unfortunate Souls," one of the biggest numbers of the show. Costume designer Sherri Geerdes outdoes herself with Ursula's opulent octopus dress of black with its free-swinging padded arms.

Camellia Yvonne Watkins as Sebastian the crab dressed in red coat tails delivers my favorite song of the evening, "Kiss the Girl." There is something arresting about her low-throaty tones in this number.

Grace Titus as Ariel's sidekick Flounder conveys the youthful feel of the original movie. Her innocence is appealing.

Joe Dignoti as King Triton is a golden voice garbed in silver. Ursula had it wrong. If she was after power, she should have stolen his voice, because power resides there more than in his triton.

Bill Grennan as Scuttle gets the giggles. His outrageous fluffy costume combined with his ridonkulously silly antics win. Scuttle's new way of looking at things...like listening to Prince Eric's feet to hear a heartbeat... and his use of fabricated terms endear him to us. Grennen struts his stuff in "Positoovity" (or was it "Positaggity?") with a gaggle of tapping seagulls.

Tim McMath's set design wavers between minimalist and visually rich. The scenes with Ursula and the eels are menacing with dark eyes, teeth, and a cave-like feel. "Under the Sea" floods the sea into the audience with Mylar balloon fish. A backdrop of swirls suggests bubbles. Streamers of tinsel reflect the light and suggest an otherworldly place.

THE LITTLE MERMAID follows the Disney story line. Why did I not notice before the similarity between it and other Disney beloved tales? The kitchen and dinner scene with the crazy French Chef Louis (John E Jones) reappears in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Sebastian advising Ariel to get some sleep because it is after midnight and the mermaid chorus auditioning for Prince Eric's vocal competition elicit memories of the Fairy Godmother and the stepsisters trying to fit into the glass slipper in CINDERELLA. Ursula planning her revenge to take down King Triton by ensnaring his favorite daughter resemble the Evil Queen of SLEEPING BEAUTY. Disney clearly has a recipe for success, and they aren't afraid to use it. And yes, it is once again a success, because the young audience loves it.

LITTLE MERMAID has some swells and it has some ebbs. Overall, it is sure to be a success with the little ones who will be happily swept away under the sea with Ariel, Prince Eric, and their friends.

Photo Credit: MGB Photography


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