|The wonderous visuals of Disney's The Little Mermaid (Mark Kitaoka)
Disney's The Little Mermaid
5th Avenue Theatre
through December 31, 2016
The new iteration of The Little Mermaid now at 5th Avenue Theatre is entrancing and delightful! And it has so many local talents who are going on a year-long national tour that it makes me so excited for them!
Diana Huey, Dane Stokinger, Matthew Kacergis, Allen Fitzpatrick, Connor Russell, Kristin Burch, Brenna Wagner, Becca Orts, Taylor Niemeyer, Frederick Hagreen, and maybe others, are all folks who have perhaps grown up here or at least have performed on multiples stages here, and whom I have gotten to love seeing on stage.
The musical has all the songs you’d recognize from the hit cartoon video and some more that add background and richness to some of the favorite characters. Ariel (played with complete Disney-style enchantingness by Diana Huey) has more reasons why she doesn’t quite fit where she was born. Prince Eric (the dashing and to-die-for baritone Matthew Kacergis) has some lovely new songs to sing about how he loves the sea and looking for the voice of his love.
Ursula gets a couple of more evil songs and has the big-voiced Jennifer Allen channeling her inner demon. Her electric eels, Flotsam and Jetsam light up with flickering badness (Brandon Roach and Frederick Hagreen).
There are the “adults” who lose track of their power over their adolescents, including King Triton (a buff and sympathetic Steve Blanchard), the blustery, soft-hearted, Jamaican crab Sebastian (a comic Melvin Abston), and Grimsby, the hapless governor of the Prince (our own Allen Fitzpatrick). I think that Disney does that sort of storytelling to give kids the feeling that they have some innate power in their relationships with the grown-ups in their lives – it’s part of the themes Disney presents in their cartoons.
In key roles, Connor Russell, another Seattle native who has moved to NYC to make a national career in musicals, plays the lovable Flounder, and Dane Stokinger gets to cut up (it’s a bad pun…) as the Chef – a role completely provided for comic relish. Stokinger gets a rather large part of the fun in Act Two.
In addition to the stellar cast, the atmosphere of the production is amazing. The colors are vibrant. The set is simple in some ways (walls of watery bubbles, castle backdrop of lush-looking wallpaper), but streamlined and very quick-changing. (Set credits are to Kenneth Foy.)
The costuming is a wonderful swirl of color and swishing fabrics as everyone in the water has to seem to float (designed by Amy Clark and Mark Koss). Ursula’s squid costume is a marvel of legs, and Sebastian is quite red and clawful.
And then there are times when huge puppets, like jelly fish and other sea creatures swarm among the ensemble. They make more magic.
I have to shout out to the “flying sequence choreographer” Paul Rubin, who helped create the visualization of Ariel and others floating and swimming through deep waters. The fact that Huey (primarily) has to “swim” and sing absolutely perfectly at the same time is quite a thing to see and hear!
It’s still a kid-show. Let’s be honest. But there is so much to look at, marvel at and enjoy that parents and grandparents will have a great time with their little ones, and those who love musicals will have a great time alone, because you can ignore the weaknesses in the story and just enjoy the rest of it.
Book writer Doug Wright seems to have significantly strengthened the story, but it is never going to be not primarily a children’s delight. There is so much more to like about the new Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Glenn Slater new songs, as well! Enjoy this extravaganza before it embarks to the rest of the nation!
For more information, go to www.5thavenue.org or call 206-625-1900.