Disney’s version of Hans Cristian Anderson’s tale has been part of our world for more than 30 years now. For many of us, the songs have taken their place along with the likes of “A spoon full of sugar" and "You can fly." While the story may seem like a typical Disney princess ‘tail,’ in its time the movie was revolutionary in its genre, opening the door for other strong female leads.
In 2008, Disney decided to bring her to the stage. With "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" having been huge successes it seem natural the "The Little Mermaid" would be a splash. There was new music written to supplement the film's six original songs; some of which fit perfectly, others feel like they are from another show. However, this is also true of both "Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast."
There was just one thing that this material needed that the other two did not — water. Most of the show takes place under water and the 2008 production just couldn’t figure it out. In 2012, another director was brought in to revamp it again and this time used the most obvious solution — wires — a la "Peter Pan" and "Mary Poppins."
That brings us to now. That revamp is the show that Musical Theatre West has staged with success. While all the effects may not completely satisfy your desire to take a trip under the sea, it all works well.
The cast is solid and gives an exactingly-rendered, specifically Disneyesque fairytale performance. Katherine McDonough’s pragmatically rendered and charming Ariel gives the character a fresh strength. David Burnam’s Prince Eric is winsome and very much in need of rescue. Burnam’s rendering of "Her Voice" leaves you longing for Ariel to sweep him off his feet. I know that sounds sarcastic. It isn’t. What was great here was that for the first time I saw Ariel as the proactive hero and Eric as the romantic, sea loving, dreamer that his is.
Right in tune with the charm of the evening were performances by Jalon Matthews As Sebastian and Joe Abraham as Scuttle. Both nailed the tone of the piece. However, the octopus that stole my heart was Cynthia Ferrer As Ursula. Ferrer couldn't have been more on point. From her walk, to her glare, to her exquisite rendering of "Poor Unfortunate Souls," she brought the takoyaki and the audience ate it up.
Truly it is a fun, frivolous bubble-filled evening, but even so, it never really swims. It will be the problem with any production of this show. Maybe it’s just me and my love of all things puppet, but I got excited every time the umbrella jellyfish came onstage. Sadly, they did not ‘swim’ as the actors never pulsed the umbrellas to make the jellyfish move and, apart from the one other puppet of a school of fish, the only swimming that happened was accomplished by the afore mentioned wires.
Wisely, I think, Director Daniel Pelzig and Choreographer Daniel A. Smith made the sea floor dance. It was again a solid choice for a solid production.
The Little Mermaid continues through July 28 with 8 p.m. curtains Friday and Saturday; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the Cal State Long Beach campus. Parking is in Lot 12 and is now $10, cash only.
Tickets start at $20, and are available at musical.org/shows-tickets/.