Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Disney's The Little Mermaid
Landmark Musicals
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carla's review of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Dean's review of Jitney

(clockwise from top):
Elora Daniels, Lucca Giannini, Hannah Lilly, and Sean Gariety

Photo by Max Woltman
In 1811, a German novella titled "Undine" was published. It's the story of a water spirit and a knight who fall in love. They do not live happily ever after. The book was very popular and most likely influenced Hans Christian Andersen, who in 1836 wrote "The Little Mermaid," about a mermaid and a prince who fall in love. They do not live happily ever after. In 1901, Antonin Dvořák's opera Rusalka premiered. It is a story about a water spirit and a prince who fall in love. They do not live happily ever after. In 1938, Jean Giraudoux wrote a play called Ondine, which is the French name for Undine ("onde" being the French word for a wave). It is about a water spirit and a knight who fall in love. They do not live happily ever after.

Then in 1989 the Disney animated movie The Little Mermaid comes out. It is about a mermaid and a prince who fall in love. Do they live happily ever after? Come on, it's Disney and it's America, not gloomy old Europe. Because of the songs in the movie, someone commented that it was like Broadway coming to animation. Then in 2008, animation went to Broadway, and that is the show Landmark Musicals is doing now. The Disney version was a crowd-pleaser in 1989, and it still is today. I had a great time at Landmark's production.

The mermaid here is Ariel, which is an incongruous name since in The Tempest, Ariel is a spirit of the air, not water, but so what. In any case, not a human. Ariel gets bored under the sea, as teenagers do, and longs to see what life is like on land. When she sees the handsome Prince Eric, she will stop at nothing to lose her tail and get those things called legs. Her aunt, the sea witch Ursula, obliges her, but Ariel has to give up her voice while she is on land. You can tell that Ursula is Nazi-evil when she sings a song about killing off her five older sisters, and the music is straight out of Cabaret. The inability to speak to Eric is a big hindrance, but love prevails. The rest of the plot should be experienced, not revealed, but be prepared that it is not exactly the same as in the movie.

One of the things that makes Disney movies so good is the sidekicks. What would Snow White be without the seven dwarfs? Here, there's the crab Sebastian, the seagull Scuttle, and the flounder Flounder. Sebastian gets a couple of the best songs, "Kiss the Girl" and the Academy Award winning "Under the Sea." They are delivered with panache by Hasani Olujimi, who owns the role in this town–he has played it before in Albuquerque and came back from Chicago to do it again. Katya Ivanchov is a lot of fun as Scuttle, squawking and dancing her heart out. And young Lucca Giannini is a stage natural as Flounder, and he's great on those shoes that have rollers on them which let the performers glide across the stage as if swimming.

The villains in Disney movies are often more memorable than the heroines, and Ursula is no exception. Elora Daniels knocks it out of the park, a total pro. Jack Litherland enjoys himself immensely as the French Chef Louis who is trying to prepare an all-seafood banquet for Ariel's welcome dinner. Seems totally inappropriate, but come to think of it, what do merpeople eat under the sea? Jonathan Graff and William A. Strohl have the least showy roles, King Triton and Grimsby, respectively, and they are quite good in them.

The two leads are still in high school, but they handle themselves on stage as if quite experienced. Hannah Lilly has a fine voice and acts well. Sean Gariety is a dreamboat of a prince, and that's what you need in this role. As a bonus, he's a good singer and actor too. And there are twenty other people in the cast! They all deserve a standing ovation.

Landmark is lucky to have a theatre professional like Laurie Finnegan as its resident director. She knows how to get a big show like this together by opening night. So many performers, costumes, set changes, and technical aspects, and it all works pretty flawlessly. She is helped by executive producer Louis Giannini and choreographers Lou Becker, Courtney Giannini, and, doing double duty, Louis Giannini.

It's a good-looking production. The set by Carrie Tafoya, props by Nina Dorrance, costumes by Joe Moncado and Tori Whisler, hair and wigs by Kandy Thorn and Michele Cappel, makeup by Mary Starr Smith, lighting by Diego Garcia, and sound design by Simon Welter–whew, and that's not even everyone who contributed to this show. Another round of applause, please.

There are three musicals currently playing in Albuquerque–local, not traveling shows. I keep thinking, we're not that big a city. How do we have such a deep pool of talent here? Fortunately, some of them climbed out of that pool onto the stage of The Little Mermaid.

Disney's The Little Mermaid runs through March 31, 2024, at Landmark Musicals, Rodey Theatre, University of New Mexico, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00, Sundays at 2:00. For tickets and information, please visit or the UNM box office.