Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID at The 5th Avenue Theatre

The magic returns to the 5th Avenue.

By: Sep. 16, 2023
Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Coleman Cummings and Diana Huey in
The 5th Avenue Theatre's original
production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

In these tumultuous theatrical times, it’s of little surprise that The 5th Avenue Theatre would head back under the sea with a remount of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”.  I mean, they just did it back in 2016.  But it’s a crowd pleaser and I suspect a bit of a cash sea cow so here we are.  But I still contend that there are two shows here.  There’s half of a show that has the story and songs from the late great Howard Ashman that we all remember from the movie, and half of a show where we do our best to enjoy a Glenn Slater lyric.  But no matter which half of the show you’re faced with, at least we still get the luminous Diana Huey back as Ariel, the titular mermaid. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the stage version, there are only a few minor story alterations.  But it’s still just the story of a mermaid (Huey) who longs for the world above the sea.  So much so that she falls for the dashing human Prince (Coleman Cummings).  The scheming Sea Witch (Shaunyce Omar) sees this and promises to use her powers to transform the mermaid into a human in exchange for her beautiful voice.  But she only has three days to make the Prince fall in love with her or her soul belongs to the witch.  Oh, and there’s also a singing crab (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), a wise cracking seagull (John David Scott), and a love-struck fish (Keoni Dilay) along for the ride.

All your favorites are still there to delight the kiddies or the kiddies at heart.  “Under the Sea” still captivates as the big production number, we still ache for the Prince to “Kiss the Girl” and we’re still heartbroken with the mermaid as she longs to be “Part of Your World”.  And the Glenn Slater songs are not wholly awful, just not up to the standards of the originals. 

But beyond all that, it’s the talent and the spectacle that makes this show the hit that it is.  Director Glenn Casale and choreographer John MacInnis thankfully stuck with the swimming movements and hidden feet to indicate the undersea dwellers as opposed to the Heelies that were used in the original Broadway production.  I saw it way back when and it was painful.  A couple of characters still have their wheels, Flotsam and Jetsam (Cassi Q Kohl and Ethan Carpenter), the Sea Witch’s eel minions glide about the stage on them and for them it works.  And the flowing, iridescent costumes from Amy Clark and Mark Koss are stunners, especially on the merfolk and go a long way to selling that magic.  But the best bit of magical staging comes from Paul Rubin as he’s responsible for the flying (or rather swimming above the stage) sequences that wowed even the most cynical in the audience. 

Review: DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Cassi Q Kohl, Shaunyce Omar, and
Ethan Carpenter in The 5th Avenue Theatre's
original production
of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

But it’s this stunning cast that truly sells it all.  Cummings makes for a wonderful Prince with a fantastic voice but kept a grounded sense to his character making him real and not a doll.  Kirkwood manages the laughs as the Jamaican crab and nails some insane notes but at times I found him a bit over the top and cloying.  Terence Kelley as King Triton too has an amazing voice, but he felt a bit stiff and out of place.  Scott kills it as the overbearing gull and he and his fellow gulls bring in a fantastic birdie tap number that brought down the house.  Dilay is adorable as the fishy best friend and makes the most of his big number with the other mer-sisters.  And Kohl and Carpenter slither about the stage with delicious malevolence showing off how wonderful an evil minion can be.

But this show will always belong to the ladies.  Ariel and Ursula will always own this show as they get the best numbers.  Omar is a wicked delight as the villainous Sea Witch and I have to wonder whose voice she stole before Ariel’s, as the one she’s using is enough to bring down the house.  Plus, she looks to be having way too much fun up there.  And then there’s Huey.  It’s been seven years and it feels like not a day has passed since she wowed us with her Ariel.  Her voice is flawless, and she certainly knows how to build a song into an astounding crescendo that you’ll feel up and down your spine.  Plus, she manages that wonderful sweetness and honesty to the role that makes you want her to win it all.  I initially questioned why bring her back for this, but I guess when you find perfection, you stick with it.

I will say that at 2 and a half hours, the show is a bit long, although the kiddies in the audience seemed to handle it just fine.  And qualms of the new songs and changes aside, it’s still “The Little Mermaid” and that’s a good thing.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” a still magical YAY.  If you missed it before, now’s your chance.  And if you saw it before, relive the magic.

“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through October 8th.  For tickets or information visit them online at www.5thAvenue.org.


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From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting wo... Jay Irwin">(read more about this author)

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