By Brad Haynes
While the majority of the nation is heavily anticipating the live action transition of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on the big screen, Orlando audiences currently have the opportunity to check out the transformation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid from animated film to stage musical.
But this isn’t the first incarnation of the show. Originally on Broadway close to 10 years ago, the show didn’t fare all that well and was eventually re-conceived by director Glenn Casale, who is at the helm of this enjoyable touring production from Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater.
The story remains essentially the same as the film. Young mermaid Ariel (Diana Huey) longs for a life on land and the ability to pursue the attentions of Prince Eric (Matthew Kacergis) who she rescues from drowning. There’s one slight catch though: in order to do this, she will have to give her voice over to her estranged aunt, the evil sea witch Ursula (Jennifer Allen). And if she can’t get the prince to kiss her in three days time? She’s doomed to spend all eternity in her aunt’s watery hell.
The tunes from the film all make it into the show, along with others written specifically for the stage incarnation. Unfortunately, none of those songs are quite as memorable as the original songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (although “Positoovity,” with lyrics by Glenn Slater, does provide a dandy tap number and a chance for seagull Scuttle, played by Jamie Torcellini, to shine).
Seemingly geared more for the younger set, the show typically tends to cross generational borders when it comes to the music and some of the nifty special effects executed. The stage harness typically utilized for flight here finds a useful way of simulating swimming, and the scene where Prince Eric tumbles into the ocean, sinking at a rapid rate, is especially effective.
The vocal talent on this tour is all top-notch, with Huey bringing to Ariel a lovely belt on favorites like “Part of Your World.” Kacergis, who brings a larger-than-life air to Prince Eric, is also blessed with a strong instrument, beautifully demonstrated on the song “Her Voice.”
But the true standouts of this production are found in several supporting roles. Torcellini’s Scuttle, mentioned earlier, is hilarious as the know-it-all bird who has trouble keeping his facts straight.
Slapstick plays a big part in the “Les Poissons” number, and Dane Stokinger as Chef Louis is hilarious in his execution (or, at least attempted execution of crab Sebastian, winningly played by Melvin Abston).
No one in the cast commands the stage quite as boldly though as Allen in the role of Ursula. Displaying the brassy vocal stylings of Ethel Merman crossed with Bette Midler, and equally reminiscent of the comedic timing of Jennifer Coolidge, Allen tears up the stage each time she inhabits it. Even a technical faux pas with sound couldn’t throw her, winning a well-deserved round of applause for a hilarious cover up of what could have been a major issue.
With a 2 1/2 hour run time, the kids may get a little drowsy (particularly if attending an evening performance), but they’re bound to be excited to watch some of their favorited animated characters come to life in a show that seems to have finally found its sea legs.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid runs through Sunday, March 12 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Click here for ticket information.