“Under the sea…under the sea—darling’ it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me!” croons “Sebastian”—the crusty crustacean and court composer for the mighty “Triton”—sovereign of the seven seas’ underwater domain. This lyrically-talented lobster has been charged with watching over the king’s headstrong youngest daughter “Ariel”, a little mermaid who dreams of leaving her home there ‘at the bottom of the briny deep’ to go “up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun” after saving a handsome Prince named “Eric” from drowning. In 1989, Walt Disney Pictures produced an animated masterpiece based on this time-tested tale from famed author Hans Christian Andersen, which auspiciously revived the studio’s then sagging animation department—even garnering several Oscar nominations, winning one for best song! In 2008 the film was adapted for the musical stage, effectively transforming it into a haunting love story for all ages! Now “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” in La Mirada California in association with McCoy-Rigby Entertainment invites viewers to take a refreshing dip “Under The Sea” as it presents the fifth and final show of its record-setting 2015-2016 season, with this, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”! Featuring a book by Doug Wright based on that original screenplay, the music is by eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.
Upon the overture’s last notes, “Ariel”, the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters, and her BFF (big fish-friend) “Flounder” are revealed drifting above the waves where she quickly spots a ship with Eric on deck. Quickly taken with the handsome young lad, she completely forgets a concert she’s to sing at along with her sisters (“Look what the catfish dragged in” they jibe as she arrives late–yet again.) Their father is himself the son of Poseidon who chose him as his successor to rule over the waters of the world after he banished his evil sister, “Ursula, the Sea Witch” (—‘ugly as a slug; hideous to hug’) for doing away with all of their other siblings. Meanwhile, Eric, we learn, has more interest in sailing the vast ocean blue listening to the tales the sailors tell of mermaids rather than his impending role as regent of his seaside kingdom; nonetheless, his guardian “Grimsby” scoffs at such ‘nautical nonsense”. Back below the waves, trouble arises when Triton, who has an inherent hatred of the human race above, believing they were responsible for the death of his queen and Ariel’s mother, comes across his youngest’s treasured collection of humorously mis-named items salvaged from sunken ships, and he furiously destroys them all. That’s when Ariel is approached by Ursula’s skating cohorts––two slippery characters named “Flotsam” and Jetsam”—who tempt her with promises of help on how to capture her longed-for Prince’s love (“Who will ease her woes and worries? Who will help her get her man?” they entice; “Sweet child, perhaps the Sea Witch can!”) Thus, in desperation, she strikes an unholy bargain with Ursula that she will be given legs and be allowed to ascend upward to Eric’s Kingdom for three days in an attempt to win him for her own. However, if she should fail by sunset of the third day, she must become the witch’s soul-less slave forever. (“It’s got a procedural clause,” she advises her wide-eyed niece; “Sort of a “Squid pro quo.”) As if things weren’t complicated enough, in exchange for this ‘help’ the girl must surrender her exquisite voice (“Your vibrato, your legato—even your belt!” the sea witch explains, adding that “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets her man!”) Still, even without her siren’s song, it’s easily apparent that these two are meant for one another—both, in their own way, is like a fish out of water: “You’re a quiet girl in a world full of noise and I’d rather be a simple sailor than a prince,” Eric tells her.
Family friendly charm and unfettered affability are such rare commodities these days; this production is a veritable wellspring of them! Directed by Glenn Casale, the man responsible for helping to revise, re-envision and improve this stage version from the original Broadway production, here is a fun, frolicsome and anything-but-fishy fable, with a score that features such unforgettable songs as “Kiss the Girl”, “Part of Your World””, “Poor, Unfortunate Soul”, and the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea”. A new addition for the stage, “She’s In Love” is quintessential Menken—offering a bouncy 1960’s ‘girl group’ feel, which is awesomely carried out by Ariel’s sextet of sisters when, accompanied by ‘Flounder’, they realize their youngest sibling “sure is acting fishy!” Wright’s book includes more developed back-stories for several of the key characters we thought we knew, and is filled with plenty of unexpected gag-lines as when Triton scolds Sebastian for not keeping a better eye on Ariel for him, wherein the Crustacean winces “I have no backbone!” Later, when Ariel signs her contract with Ursula, the half-Octopus enchantress chides her that not just any kind of ink will do; extending one of her gigantic tentacles she breezes “Here use mine.” Wright also imbues his work with a great flow from one scene to the next which Casale likewise makes great use of. The choreography too, is well supplied by John MacInnis who similarly brings a lot to this production having served as the Associate Choreographer of Broadway’s “Something Rotten” and Disney’s latest Broadway endeavor, the stage adaptation of “Aladdin”, as well as for the Tony award-winning mega-hit “The Book of Mormon”. Along with Associate Choreographer Robbie Roby, they infuse the proceedings with plenty of vivacious movement throughout—never trying to exactly duplicate the film, but rather using individual moments here and there to playfully reference it. The momentous “Under The Sea” number for which the show is renowned is like Mardi Gras meets Radio City Music Hall—a big colorful and splashy triumphant group effort (—complete with a built-in encore!) After intermission, they throw in a first-rate tap-line of soft-shoeing sea gulls to help launch the second act in bright and buoyant style. Yet it’s in the subtler moments that their moves really have impact, such as in the seemingly impromptu interlude that blossoms during “One Step Closer”–part tango, part jig, part minuet and waltz, this is an exceptional anthem to why dance has always played such a vital part in romance.
Alison Woods radiantly leads the cast as “Ariel”, and true to her character, she possesses a genuinely lovely voice with all the poise, enthusiasm and sheer likeability that any Disney heroine would envy. Furthermore, to say she ‘soars’ in this title role is also a completely accurate statement—thanks to some dazzling flight choreography by Paul Rubin. Vocally, her delivery of the iconic “Part Of Your World” is nothing short of thrilling, and if the truth be known, more than a few in opening night’s audience just might admit to softly singing it right along with her! Then, in one of the more clever conventions this theatrical version employs, in the second half, although Ariel has ostensibly ‘lost’ her voice on land, her melodious musings are still expressed and articulated—but never when anyone else on stage can hear, or by having them simply ‘freeze”, as occurs during her exuberant “Beyond My Wildest Dreams”. Of course, for every Disney Princess there’s also a Disney Prince, and Eric Kunze is as dashing as they come as “Prince Eric”. First Act declaration, “Her Voice” is introspective and hypnotic—and shows off the brilliant intensity of his own voice, while his solo “On Step Closer” is a sweet courtship through dance, as Eric acknowledges a deeper connection to this unusual—and silent—girl. Fred Inkley can also lay claim to a fittingly august and commanding stage presence as Ariel’s father (and Monarch of the seven seas) “King Triton”. He particularly shines with some fairly impressive power-notes with his contribution to “If Only”–a four-part soliloquy for Ariel, Eric, King Triton and Sebastian, that is, at turns, poignant, impactful and amazing. As “Ursula”– arguably one of Disney’s finest villains ever, Tracy Lore positively glows and glowers as the infamous “Sea Witch”. Starting with her introductory number, “Daddy’s Little Angel” in which is discovered something about her background (–including how far back her sheer ruthlessness began,) later, Lore does an equally magnificent job with the tongue-twisting incantation number “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (–also arguably one of the very best of Disney’s “Villain” songs ever written–) as she lays out her plan (and its cost) to ‘help’ Ariel get her Prince. Long a respected member of the Southern California theatrical community, indeed, “Ursula” is the sparkling jewel in Ms. Lore’s much esteemed, award-honored crown and she certainly makes the most of every second of her time in the spotlight.
Then again, while strong and sympathetic lead characters are always the hallmark of any Disney fairytale, it’s the supporting roles that are often just as well-drawn and fascinating, and in this regard “The Little Mermaid” is definitely no exception. Here, they’re chiefly comprised of Ariel’s colorful coterie of friends. As “Sebastian”, Melvin Abston doesn’t put a foot (or in this case, ‘Pincher’) wrong in a role comparable to that of “Jiminy Cricket” in the classic “Pinocchio”. In many ways he serves as both Ariel’s conscience and her foil, and Abston masterfully manages all the unabashed merriment of “Under The Sea”, while doing an equally transcendent job with the more subdued, “Kiss The Girl”. He also demonstrates spot-on comic timing with the broad burlesque of “Les Poissons”. Moreover, sporting a new-wave kind of ‘faux-hawk’ hairstyle and a blazing yellow jumper, Adam Garst also makes a splash as Ariel’s water-breathing buddy, “Flounder”. Slightly older in this version than portrayed in the original film, Garst cleverly makes it clear that this ‘teenaged tropical fish’ harbors a not so secret crush on his gal-pal Ariel. His best moments occur during the opening number, “The World Above” and later with “She’s In Love”. Up on land, there’s nothing ‘bird brained’ either about Jamie Torcellini’s genial portrayal of “Scuttle The Albatross! “Look who got beached” he jokes upon seeing Ariel on shore—with a brand new pair of legs—right before he commences with “Positoovity”—a snappy, snazzy Vaudevillian routine complete with that aforementioned ‘ornithological’ tap break! Jeff Skowron too, earns big laughs as “Chef Louis”, the Castle Cook who tries to make “Sebastian” a dinner entrée in the hilarious “Les Poissons”. An utterly jovial and slap-stick inspired exercise boasting one great comic surprise after another that is tunefully reminiscent of “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty And The Beast”, this ranks a definite second half Highlight!
As with just about all of Disney’s stage creations, this one also showcases plenty of truly spectacular special effects. One is immediately struck by just how sumptuous and stunning are Julia Flores’s costumes, and it just keeps getting better from there (—“Sebastian’s outfit alone is worth the cost of a ticket!) So too, this time around, Ursula’s ‘Hench Eels’ (moray eels in the film) have themselves undergone an ‘electrifying’ upgrade which is evident from their glimmering getups (Don’t blow a fuse boys” she warns them at one point) Such eye-popping apparel-based creations and conjurations are immensely aided by Leah J. Loukas’ expert hair and wig designs as well, while the under-water effects (against which over half of the story is played out) are marvelously achieved courtesy of Kenneth Foy’s luminous aquatic backdrops and proscenium arch. These illusions also benefit greatly from Charlie Morrison’s lighting design which is frequently subdued and dark when necessary, then just as suddenly, as vibrant and multi-hued as a tropical coral reef!
Rest assured, smiles will be overflowing by the curtain call—you’ll definitely want to be part of this world! After “previewing” on Friday, June 3rd , “The Little Mermaid” officially opened on Saturday, June 4th where it will run through Sunday, June 26th, 2016 at “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts”, located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada California. Show-times are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Additional performances will be held on Sunday, June 19th and Sunday June 26th at 7: 00 PM, and on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:30pm. Special “Talkbacks” with the cast and creative team will be held after the curtain calls on Wednesday, June 8th and Wednesday, June 22nd as well. Tickets may be obtained by logging onto the “La Mirada Theatre’s” website, located at: www.lamiradatheatre.com or by calling the “La Mirada Theatre Box Office” at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Student, Senior, Child and Group discounts are available.)
Production Stills Courtesy of Bruce Bennett, “Theatre Under the Stars”, David Elzer At Demand PR (www.demandpr.com), “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” (www.lamiradatheatre.com) & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment. Special Thanks To: David Elzer, Tom McCoy, Cathy Rigby, Glenn Casale, John MacInnis & To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s Production Of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” For Making This Story Possible.