BWW Review: THE LITTLE MERMAID at Marian Theatre, PCPA
"Under the Sea"
PCPA tells the story of a little mermaid who longs to join the human world with a novel approach that incorporates acrobatics and trapeze art to animate the undersea world of wonder. The show begins with a theatrical gesture that encapsulates its aesthetic: two sea creatures suspend a silken length of purple and teal fabric. They kneel, shaking it so that it billows like wavy undulations of the surface of the sea.
In adapting the animated original of Disney's The Little Mermaid for the stage, director Melissa Rain Anderson tosses in magic and motion. For example, the costumes of the undersea characters have articulated and suspended joints that imitate the swimming movements of the aquatic animals. As costumed by Sara Curran Ice, the character of Ursula (Kitty Balay), the evil octopus-human, sports a frill of tentacles surrounding her hips that bounce and when she moves like tentacles swaying underwater. It makes for an impressive effect, especially because every mermaid and fish's costume has been engineered to move like aquatic life.
To elevate the fairytale magic of the story, Anderson brought in the team of circus artists, Ben Franklin and Joshua Dean, who trained the cast in trapeze and other circus arts for this production; they also lend their acrobatic talents to it as performers. The trapeze and circus aspects add a feeling of weightlessness along a vertical plane as kelp, anchor lines, and floating jellyfish take flight. In the musical number, "Kiss the Girl," the circus elements create an aerial spectacle as birds soar down from the sky to the sea.
The performers have the unique challenge of portraying characters familiar to audiences from the 1989 Disney film. Katie Emerson's Ariel looks to the human world with wide-eyed wonder and her naivete makes for comedic flirtiness in the scenes between her and Prince Eric; her soaring vocals match the lifting visuals of the choreography. The human characters like Prince Eric (Luc Clopton) and Grimsby (Peter Hadres) look more alien in the world of The Little Mermaid than do the mermaids and sea creatures, which is as it should be.
Part of the fun of going to the theater in Santa Maria is that the seating brings every audience member close to the action. When Sebastian, Ariel's guardian crab (Yusef Seevers), and Scuttle the wise-cracking seagull (George Walker) walk through the aisles, delighting the younger patrons, they spread their stage magic through the house. It's a charming production that will buoy your holiday spirits.