Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Disney's The Little Mermaid
For anyone familiar with the original animated film version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fable of a mermaid who falls in love with a man, there is not much to spoil regarding the plot, and the musical stays true for the most part to the film. Ariel (the beautiful soprano Diana Huey) is a princess, daughter of King Triton (Broadway veteran Steve Blanchard), whose obsession with the world on land leads her to rescue a human prince (a dashing Eric Kunze) from drowning. When her father learns of this, he destroys any dream Ariel had of one day walking on land. That is, until she meets her wicked aunt, the Sea Witch Ursula (played here with delightful decadence by Meredith Inglesby), who strikes a deal with Ariel that she might soon regret. With the help of her sidekicks Flounder (an adorable Marcos Ramos) and Sebastian the crab (an amazing Melvin Abston), Ariel sets out to win the heart of Prince Eric and become human forever.
One cannot go wrong with an Academy Award-winning score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. All the familiar songs are present. But this show is a reworking of the original Broadway production, under the direction of Glenn Casale, who has done a superb job fine-tuning a live musical that had significant flaws in its previous incarnation. Glenn Slater was brought on to write additional lyrics for new songs, and one of those, "Daddy's Little Angel," provides a much needed backstory about the sibling rivalry between Triton and Ursula, only hinted at in the film and original Broadway version. Colin R. Freeman's musical direction brings out the best of the score with heightened beauty. The book by Tony winner Doug Wright teases out lessons on bigotry and hatred while also bolstering the humor.
The visual aspects of the production have also significantly improved from the original. Scenic design by Kenneth Foy brings a more realistic, yet equally striking, look than the abstract visuals seen on Broadway. Amy Clark and Mark Koss's gorgeous costume designs reduce the bare skin previously seen of some of the characters, lending even the mythological ones greater realism. The oddly used Heelys (shoes with wheels on the heels) that had been used to make the mermaids swim (with mixed results) now are used only by Ursula's henchmen. The oddly protruding fins seen on the mermaids in the original production have been replaced by lovelier, flowing gowns. These new costumes are enhanced and supported both by the choreography by John MacInnis and the astounding use of fly rigging by Paul Rubin
The entire cast is splendid, with special mention of Diana Huey, whose soaring soprano and delightful portrayal of the young Ariel is a constant delight. Meredith Inglesby finds just the right combination of the animated version of Ursula the sea witch and her own interpretive touches. The character that is most changed is Flounder, formerly a young male. Here he is more of an awkward teenager, not much younger than Ariel, who has a crush on the little mermaid, and he is wonderfully interpreted by Marco Ramos. Jamie Torcellini's Scuttle the seagull brings the humor from start to finish, with a fun tap dance thrown in for good measure. The other true highlight of the production is Sebastian the crab, delivered here with delectable diction and precision by Melvin Abston. Impressively crab-like in his movement, Abston preserves just enough of the Caribbean memory of the film's character, originally voiced by Broadway vet Samuel E. Wright, but he finds a more modern take on the cantankerous crustacean.
Those who are fans of the Disney film will be just as delighted, if not more, with this stage version. And to those who may have been dismayed with the original Broadway version of the classic movie: Definitely give it another try. Ariel longs to be "Part of Your World," and if you let her, you'll be well rewarded.
Disney's The Little Mermaid, produced by Kansas City's Starlight Theatre and Pittsburgh CLO, is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC through October 22nd, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com, at the Ticket Center at DPAC in person, or by phone at 919-680-2787.
Composer: Alan Menken
Cast (in order of appearance):