Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The stage version is based on Disney's much-adored 1989 animated adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. This is the story of Ariel (Catherine Williamson), a strong-willed mermaid whose fascination with civilization is a curse to her father Triton (Noel Anthony), the king of the sea.
Ariel has discovered the handsome human Prince Eric (Nathaniel Rothrock) in the world above and has fallen in the love with him. She bargains with the evil sea witch Ursula (Allison F. Rich) to trade her tail for legs. However, the bargain is not what it seems and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends Flounder the fish (J.D. Cerruti), Scuttle the seagull (Burton Thomas), and Sebastian the crab (Scott Maraj) to restore order under the sea.
The music by Alan Menken is charming and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater are appealing. Besides the familiar songs from the film, Menken has added several new numbers, such as "Positoovity," sung by the daffy seagull Scuttle performed hilariously by Burton Thomas in his striking bird costume by Margaret daSilva. Thomas also realistically quacks like a bird. This is a welcome bit of comic relief at the beginning of the second act, but few of the new songs have the pleasing appeal of the original film tunes like "Under the Seat" and "Kiss the Girl."
Some great technical things happen under the direction of inventive David Judson, with Patrick Brandon's set designs, lighting by Michael Oesch, and fantastic oceanic costumes by Margaret daSilva. Particularly effective is the illusion of being undersea. All of the cast expertly glide along the stage on wheelies, creating the illusion of slithering along the ocean floor.
Catherine Williamson is wonderful as Ariel, bringing the mermaid to vivid life. Her beautiful soprano sounds great in such numbers as "Part of Your World." She also has strong chemistry with Nathaniel Rothrock as Prince Eric. He has great thematic resonance when singing "Her Voice" and "Once Step Closer." Allison F. Rich makes a perfect villainess dressed up like an octopus with tentacles that move. She relishes every moment of cartoon villainy with her powerful voice as she sings the upbeat "Poor Unfortunate Souls" several times.
Scott Maraj is a lot of fun, all in red with claws as Sebastian the crab. He is especially excellent with his vibrant voice in "Under the Sea." Special note goes to Matt Busbee as the exceptional Chef Louis in the uproarious "Les Poissons" scene in which he becomes a psychotic killer cutting up fish. Noel Anthony is strong as King Triton, capturing the emotions of the character who realizes his daughter does not want to fit in with the rest of sea population. He has a powerful voice singing "If Only." J.D Cerruti is unequivocally appealing as the young Flounder and has great vocal chops when singing "She's in Love."
Under the leadership of music director Pat Parr, the band is predominantly impressive with keyboard arrangements creating the impression of a full orchestra, while Brittany Danielle's choreography brings the two big numbers "Under the Sea" and "Kiss The Girl" to impressive life.
Disney's The Little Mermaid runs through February 14th, 2016, at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave, Pleasanton, CA. Call for tickets at 925-931-4848 or visit www.pcrtproductions.org. Coming up next is the world premiere production of Enchanted April with music by Richard B. Evans and book and lyrics by Charles Leipart. It opens on April 23rd and runs through May 8th.