Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Shea’s Performing Arts Center through Sunday is, in a word, a delight. Having neither seen the movie, nor any previous stage production of this very famous and popular musical, I had nothing to compare it to, so I had no expectations. The gentleman who accompanied me - my 11-year-old nephew, Sam – also had no previous experience of it. He said, “I really like the singing and I don’t usually like singing in plays,” and enjoyed it very much. l like the singing, too, and the music, and the dancing, and the costumes, and the lighting, and the sets, and…
Ariel (Diana Huey), the teenaged mermaid with the beautiful voice and youngest of seven mersisters, all children of King Triton, loves the sea but longs for “The World Above,” her opening song in which she says she feels complete in the world of blue sky and bright sunshine. Ms. Huey has a dazzling voice, perfect for the siren song that is an echo of her lost mother’s. Her quest to be among humans is the backbone of the story. She is her own mermaid and holds fast in the face of Triton’s disapproval, even “dating outside her species.” She is a good role model for all of the children in the audience who experience themselves as "different." Although, she did make that one dangerous choice to achieve her goal… Of course, there is a handsome prince to fall in love with and an evil witch to attempt to enslave Ariel and steal her voice. Along the way, we are treated to some very fun and funny characters and beautiful music and songs.
The cast is excellent. Standouts include:
Jennifer Allen as Ursula, sister to Triton, is terrific. She is a witty and wicked witch, an ugly squid with two dogsbodies named Flotsam and Jetsam, who are all done up in neon green with flashing lights and who roller skate around her holding up her various arms. Ms. Allen articulates each word, so we hear every nasty thing she says, and she clearly revels in her evil schemes. Her lair is done in purple and green lighting with spider webs all around. It is very creepy and beautiful at the same time.
Scuttle, the seagull, (JamieTorcellini) flies around the sky dropping, well, droppings, as well as feathers while spouting one malapropism after another. He does a tap dance with other seagulls that is charming. I am a sucker for tap dancing and was happy to see some old-fashioned hoofing on stage.
Dane Stokinger as Chef Louis has one song, “Les Poissons,” and it is a doozy. He is a riot with his cleavers and knives flashing all around.
Melvin Abston as Sebastian the Crab, spy for Triton, friend to Ariel, is very sweet and funny as he explains to Ariel how to attract a man. That he is completely wrong in that instance doesn’t detract at all from his earnest and kind attempts to care for Ariel.
As for Ariel, Ms. Huey has that incredible voice and is a good comic actress, as well. She has a lot to do in her role and does it all very capably and with gusto. Her counterpart, Eric Kunze as Prince Eric, could have been sent over from Central Casting. He is the epitome of The Handsome Prince. His dance with Ariel as a way of expressing feelings without words is lovely in the song “One Step Closer.”
As for spectacle, the aerial/aqua floating about by various characters, whether in the sky or under water is well choreographed and works very well. I did not get a real sense of characters being underwater, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of what I was experiencing. The use of screens to depict the ocean, the lighting, sound, and orchestra all blended well and to great effect. I think the production number “Under the Sea,” while colorful and extravagant, is a bit of a mishmash and seems unfocused, with various aquatic fauna leaping around, although the lyrics are very clever. And I thought the finale could have had more pizzaz.
All in all, it is a delightful evening of entertainment with lots of bells and whistles, as one would expect in a Disney production, this one being via Pittsburgh CLO & Kansas City Starlight. Sam and I both enjoyed it very much.