Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Little Mermaid is Disney's version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale of a mermaid named Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton. Ariel longs to get to know the human world and falls in love with a prince she sees while exploring the surface. Ariel's friends Scuttle, Sebastian, and Flounder do their best to keep Ariel out of trouble, but she's threatened by the seductive promises of the dangerous sea witch Ursula. The movie was released in 1989, and the musical debuted on Broadway in 2007.
The book for the stage version of The Little Mermaid is by Doug Wright, and follows the animated film fairly closely, but with a few characters and plotlines clarified and several other changes. There's pathos, comedy, and conflict present to keep interest at a sufficient level, though the story does drag and seem a bit padded at times with silly antics which will delight many of the children. The story also feels disjointed at times, especially toward the end.
The songs are what really sets it apart. The music is by Alan Menken, who has supplied the same for shows including Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act, and Newsies. The lyrics here are a combination of work from the late Howard Ashman for the original numbers, and Glenn Slater for the new songs, of which there are many, and both provide some smart word play and aptly descriptive lyrics throughout. Audiences will be delighted by well-known gems such as "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," and "Kiss the Girl," but there are some wonderful new songs as well. "She's in Love" is an exquisite doo-whop number for Ariel's sisters and Flounder, and "If Only" is a beautifully haunting quartet for Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, and King Triton.
This version differs from the script and score presented on Broadway, with modifications to the book by Glenn Casale. Gone are several songs including "Human Stuff," and Ursula's first number "I Want The Good Times Back" has been replaced by "Daddy's Little Angel"a worse song musically but helpful in telling the story. Some changes are for the better (it's a bit more efficient show now), while others (even more corny puns) aren't.
La Comedia's production is smartly directed and choreographed by Chris Beiser. He provides inventive and playful blocking, conveys the humor of the piece well, and clearly communicates the tender emotional connections of the characters. The many dances are fun and varied, and best on display in "She's in Love" and "Under the Sea." The scene transitions could be more efficient, but that's often a challenge in the dinner theater setting.
As Ariel, Rachel Dickson displays a confident stage presence, sings beautifully and clearly, and is aptly endearing. Alex Ward has lot of talent, including fine vocal chops, but seems a bit miscast as Prince Eric. Leanne Acero chews up the scenery appropriately as Ursula, with the right balance of humor and evil. Ezekiel Andrew is a commanding King Triton and vocally strong. Will T. Travis gets to show off his big range and first-rate singing as Sebastian, humorously channeling Ben Vereen as the put upon crustacean. Strong supporting performances are provided by Allen Dorsey (a very funny Scuttle), Jackson Higgason (a befuddled Flounder), Bradlee Laight (an over-the-top Chef Louis), David Thomas (a slimy Flotsam), and Gerardo Pelati (a menacing Jetsam). There are times when the ensemble vocals seem a bit underwhelming, but the cast does a good job overall.
Ray Zupp has supplied a nicely varied and functional set for the show, with many colors and layers. Though Ariel's treasure trove of human trinkets looks far too sparse, everything else is conveyed aptly. The lighting design by Geoffrey D. Fishburn is theatrical and features a number of very well-rendered effects. Costumes by A.T. Jones are fun, nautically inspired, and not too campy.
La Comedia's production of The Little Mermaid features a talented cast, as well as fine direction, dances, and design. The show's songs lift it above the hit and miss storytelling, but young and old are likely to enjoy this fairytale adventure. The Little Mermaid continues at La Comedia through August 30, 2015. Call 1-800 677-9505 or visit www.lacomedia.com for additional information and tickets.
-- Scott Cain