Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Little Mermaid Rocks the Holidays
Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Peter Pan

Hasani Olujimi, Tim Nguyen, Virginia Asbury, and Emma Elliott
Photo by Liz Lopez Photography
The Little Mermaid began as a Dutch fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The 1989 animated feature was the first in Disney's string of highly successful musicals that included Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The musical version of The Little Mermaid owes its heart to the film. Much of the film's music is intact, which additional lyrics by Glenn Slater.

The story follows Ariel (a character who became one of the new classic Disney princesses) as she falls for the world of air and land above the sea, and, in particular, with Prince Eric, whom she saves after an accident at sea. Her desire to leave her home is complicated by her father's disdain for land creatures (he mistakenly blames them for his wife's death) and her evil Aunt Ursula who connives to seal her soul.

The story follows Ariel through her trials, resolving family issues as well as overcoming eels. True love wins in the end. However, it does mean practical separation from her birth family, since Ariel gets legs and loses her gills. So the princess of the deep bonds forever with the prince of the land. There are some fun moments along the way, such as the time she is sitting at the prince's dinner table and uses the fork as a comb.

Most of the fun comes with music. "Under the Sea" is the rollicking Caribbean-style highlight. The number won a Best Song Academy Award. In the hands of Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS), it's a colorful splash with a gazillion dancers covering the stage. The entire production is high-energy delight. The musical adaptation of the movie accentuates the music, keeping most of the storytelling in full musical production.

Director Laura Nuzum (also president of MTS) keeps the pace lively. She's a deep Disney fan and her production shows it. She has gathered a strong team, from the production crew through the performers and choreographer Edye Allen. Virginia Asbury as Ariel is terrific in voice and performance, and she certainly looks the part of a Disney princess. Hasani Olujimi as Sebastian the clever lobster is absolutely perfect in comedy timing and pizazz. He did a wonderful job as Donkey in last's year's MTS production of Shrek, but he's even stronger as Sebastian. Other standouts are Emma Elliott as the cheerful-but-hapless Flounder and Jo Blackstone as a swirling dark Ursula.

Most of all, the kids in the audience were clearly delighted. This is the second year MTS has finished its season with a children's musical scheduled during the holidays. Last year it was Shrek. In both cases, the company moved from its nearby black box to the larger African American Performing Arts Center and filled the hall. Might be a worthy tradition. Albuquerque can use more children's productions at this admirable level.

The Little Mermaid, book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, is directed by Laura Nuzum for Musical Theatre Southwest. Performances are at the African American Performing Arts Center through January 3, 2016. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 4 pm. Performance time on Christmas Day will be 4:00 pm. An additional performance has been added for December 26 at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATC/ATL members admission is $20. Children 12 and under are $15. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at

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