Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Disney's The Little Mermaid
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of Spring Awakening

Jasmine Bassham and Lynzee Foreman (foreground)
with Troy Wheeler and Ben Milan-Polisar

Photo by Alexxis Grant, Timeless Present Photos
The 1989 Walt Disney film The Little Mermaid was a landmark for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Its success was largely due to the infectious, Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Arizona Broadway Theatre presented the Arizona professional premiere of the stage adaptation in 2015 and has now brought this family friendly show back again in a lively, colorful production with a wonderful cast and rich, creative elements.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen's classic story, the plot follows Ariel, a misunderstood mermaid fascinated by the human world. After saving the handsome Prince Eric from drowning, Ariel's desire to be part of the human world intensifies. However, her father, King Triton, forbids contact with humans, blaming them for her mother's death. In love with Eric, Ariel makes a deal with her evil Aunt Ursula, a sea witch seeking revenge for her banishment by Triton. Ursula transforms Ariel into a human, but with a catch: Ariel has three days to receive a true love's kiss from Eric, or her soul will belong to Ursula forever.

While the script is mainly a by-the-numbers retelling of the film screenplay, and the Broadway production ran for only a little over a year and a half and wasn't considered a success, it includes all the beloved songs from the film plus many new ones. Most of these new songs are quite good, though only a couple are as witty and memorable as the film's hits "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World," and a few numbers pad the show unnecessarily. However, there are delightful additions like the catchy new number "She's in Love" for Ariel's friend Flounder and her sisters, a comical song for Ursula, and a charming quartet, "If Only," that adds a nice emotional element to the show; all maintain the style of the original film score.

Jasmine Bassham is wonderful as Ariel. Her clear, warm voice shines on Ariel's many songs and her realistic performance gives depth and meaning to Ariel's fascination with the human world. Lynzee Foreman is having a blast playing Ursula. Foreman's fantastic stage presence and brassy and powerful singing voice create a character the audience loves to hate. Coleman Payne portrays Eric as a very likable and warm character, making it easy to see why Ariel is so taken by him. His rich singing voice adds a bright romantic sound to his songs, including one of the best new ones for the stage version, "Her Voice." As King Triton, Richard Chaz Gomez brings a powerful sense of love and concern along with a big dose of tough parental love. His excellent voice shines on his part in the quartet "If Only."

Malcolm King adds plenty of comedy as the crab Sebastian and leads two of the biggest hits from the film, "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl." Both build into big showstoppers with the addition of Kurtis Overby's charming choreography. Danny Feldman has a lot of fun as Ariel's wacky bird friend Scuttle, including leading the rousing tap dance number "Positoovity." In smaller roles, Troy Wheeler, Ben Milan-Polisar, and Tim Shawver add humorous touches, while Tyler Gallaher has a fun cameo as Chef Louis. Carter Wells, who alternates the part with Kingston Petty-Purcell and Jackson Beeson, is bright and charming as Flounder. The entire ensemble add pops of humor and charm throughout.

Renee Kathleen Koher has appeared in many ABT shows and makes her main stage ABT directorial debut with Little Mermaid. Her direction achieves warm, comical performances from the entire cast while ensuring the more serious parts of the show shine through. Koher and Foreman also make certain that the scenes with Ursula are dark but never evil or menacing, which makes the show appropriate for audiences of all ages.

The creative elements are excellent. Using a palette of colors that evoke the sea, Clifton Chadwick's scenic design is wonderful with an immersive media design from Matthew Herman that provides images that are three-dimensional and colorful with some comic elements that provide a nice homage to the original animated film. Casey Price's lighting creates some impressive stage images with bright, warm moments for the daytime scenes and cool and crisp colors for those at night and in Ursula's lair. While Robin L McGee's original costume designs, with additional costume designs from Morgan Andersen, are more colorful than creative (Sebastian's costume gives little sense that he's a crab), they still manage to add a sense of whimsy to the production with the addition of some fun wig designs by Chris Zizzo. Adam Berger's music direction derives rich notes from the entire cast which is clear and strong through Jesse Worley's sound design. The flying effects by ZFX add lovely illusions of Ariel swimming and Scuttle flying.

Even though the stage adaptation of The Little Mermaid closely follows the storyline of the animated film, and some of the new songs added for the stage don't quite match up to the originals, it's still a fun and captivating show. With an impressive main-stage directorial debut by Koher, a charming performance by Bassham as Ariel, Foreman oozing evil as Ursula, and winning creative elements, ABT's production is a fun, colorful, and vibrant musical sure to please fans of the film and audiences of all ages.

Disney's The Little Mermaid runs through August 4, 2024, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 623-776-8400.

Director: Renee Kathleen Koher
Choreography: Kurtis Overby
Music Direction: Adam Berger
Scenic Design: Clifton Chadwick
Lighting Design: Casey Price
Original Costume Designs by: Robin L McGee
Additional Costume Design: Morgan Andersen
Sound Design: Jesse Worley
Wig Design/Coordination: Chris Zizzo
Props Design: Jess Lyon
Media Design: Matthew Herman
Production Manager: Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell
Production Stage Management: Nico Rossetti
Flying Effects: ZFX
Artistic Director: Kurtis W. Overby
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Ariel: Jasmine Bassham
Ursula: Lynzee Foreman
Prince Eric: Coleman Payne
King Triton: Richard Chaz Gomez
Sebastian: Malcolm King
Scuttle: Danny Feldman
Flounder: Carter Wells
Flotsam: Troy Wheeler
Jetsam: Ben Milan-Polisar
Grimsby: Tim Shawver
Ensemble: Christopher Alvarado, Christopher Andrew, Alyssa Armstrong, Elyssa Blonder, Devorah Joyce Coon, Jack Michael Dodson, Nicole Essien, Tyler Gallaher, Trevor Lavine, Pearl Matteson, Katie Toepke, Brody Wurr