BWW Review: THE LITTLE MERMAID National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
When I last met with these characters 'Under the Sea', I was only starting to cover theatrical events in the Triangle area. Now over three years later, I have more experience, so let's take another dive, shall we? Based on the 1989 Disney animated classic of the same name as well as the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid tells the story about a young mermaid who dreams of the world above the sea and gives up her beautiful voice to find her true love.
In the coveted role of Ariel is Diana Huey, who had previously received such hateful comments online all because she's a Japanese-American performer playing a character audiences have long seen as white over the years. If you ask me, arguments like that are pretty much pointless by now. Do you see anyone complaining about people of color playing the Founding Fathers in Hamilton? Nonetheless, Huey still gives a very charmingly heartfelt performance in the role.
As for the rest of the cast, Eric Kunze is sweetly good as Prince Eric; Steve Blanchard gives a strong, yet caring performance as Ariel's father, King Triton; Meredith Inglesby (who in real-life, happens to be Blanchard's wife) is wickedly great as the villainous sea witch Ursula; Melvin Abston and Jamie Torcellini are both comic highlights in the roles as Sebastian and Scuttle, respectively. Though I must mention that actor Marco Ramos gives a different take on the character of Flounder from what I've seen in other productions. Rather than being played by a child, Flounder is portrayed as a teenager in this production, even giving him a nice bit of angst.
As for the physical production directed with elaborate staging by Glenn Casale, it probably features the best simulation I've been able to see in any stage production of The Little Mermaid. In creating that illusion, it utilizes some astonishing flying sequences courtesy of Paul Rubin (not to be confused with actor Paul Reubens, otherwise known as Pee-Wee Herman), puppet work, and roller skates. Not to mention that all of the designs from Charlie Morrison's lighting to Kenneth Foy's sets to Amy Clark & Mark Koss' costumes are all very colorful.
While I still found the climax near the end of the show to be a bit abrupt, the production overall should still be able to satisfy audiences of all ages. There's dazzling moments, great musical comedy, and lots of heart. This touring production presented by Pittsburgh CLO in collaboration with Kansas City Starlight is currently running at the Durham Performing Arts Center through October 22nd.