Emily Vergason in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Photo: Emily Vergason
Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater
Book by Doug Wright
Directed by Jason Cooper
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
I would venture to guess that The Little Mermaid has been a part of your life since its Walt Disney release more than 25 years ago. It was the beginning of the resurgence of their animation division and featured catchy songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” and a school of sea-life that come to life: characters like Sebastian, Flounder and of course, Ariel.
Based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story, The Little Mermaid is about Ariel, a talented and headstrong mermaid who longs to be a part of the human world, but her father, King Triton, warns her of the dangers that humans cause. Despite her father’s warnings, she ventures to the surface where she sees Prince Eric and falls in love. As a sudden storm brews, Prince Eric is thrown off of his ship and into the sea where Ariel retrieves him and brings him to shore. Upon hearing her voice, Eric is in love, but he does not know that his rescuer is a mermaid. Soon Triton learns that Ariel has been to the surface he forbids his daughter from ever seeing the Prince again, despite Ariel’s pleadings. In an act of defiance against Triton, Ariel seeks the help of her Aunt Ursula, who had been banished by her brother Triton because of her evilness. Ursula is more than eager to help and it would just cost Ariel her voice. The deal is made and Ariel becomes a human, but to remain a human Ariel has to get Eric to kiss her within three days, or else she remains a mermaid and servant to Ursula. So, does Ariel get everything she wanted?
Getting a stage to look like both the undersea world and the land can be a daunting task when you don’t have moving stages or a lot of moveable scenery. The design and production team of CenterStage did an admirable job of relaying when one was on land and/or on sea or even when both were necessary, by having a platform bedecked with shimmery blue ribbons to indicate the water with sea-foam white on top to show where land began and delightfully colored and sparkly fish and sea-life around the seating area. Now of course, there were times that you’d have to let your imagination figure it out, but all in all the lines were pretty well drawn. I will offer a suggestion though to the lighting design: when the action is underwater, the use of the gel that simulates the shadows of the waves could have been used at all times, rather than sporadically. Also, the lights could have been a little cooler, but all in all, it was a well-designed production. There were some hiccups as it pertained to scenery where pieces were knocked down and/or noticeably fell off, but the actors (for the most part) took the mishaps in stride. There is a set piece that I saw was a bit cumbersome but necessary for the show: two pieces that resembled the jaw bone of a whale that served as many settings throughout the show had its share of mistakes, especially in the time it took for the pieces to be maneuvered. A note to stage management, when you have a need to place a backstage assistant on the stage to assist with a technical trick from the stage, it helps if the person is dressed like the cast or all in black. A young lady was assisting with this trick and did not blend in with the scenery or actors. However, the trick was clever and otherwise well executed.
So let’s talk about the cast. Ariel’s sisters did quite well, but the three standouts would have to be Tymika Prince’s Aquata, Erin Jump’s Attina and Samantha Riggs’ Andrina. Sam Mannino’s Chef Louis had just enough French flair and the cast effectively managed the Keystone Cops antics of the kitchen scene.
Hunter Broyles as Flotsom and Adeleke Goring as Jetsom, while not very strong in their singing, did a bit better in delivery and for remembering that they are underwater in their movement. Hardly anyone that was under the sea moved in that way, so thank you Hunter and Adeleke.
Craig Nolan Highley’s Grimsby was seasoned well with charm and a fatherly direction as Prince Eric’s guardian. Despite a few songs that seemed to be a bit high for his voice, Alex Hartz was an admirable Flounder, even getting audible sympathy from the audience as he showed his love for Ariel. Aaron Whaley as King Triton showed that once an actor, always an actor as he donned the crown with a good delivery and presence.
Frank Goodloe III’s Sebastian was delightful and helped to bring the story together. One of the pleasant surprises of the evening was Austin Seeley’s Scuttle. Mr. Seeley was always in character and managed some difficult phrasing that most people’s brains would want to correct, but for the role of Scuttle would take away much of the comedy. Great job Mr. Seeley.
While Emily Vergason certainly had the look and the voice for Ariel, there were times within a declaration and, more importantly, in song that a smile needed to be seen or heard. Timidity was heard in Ms. Vergason at times and, in my opinion, Ariel isn’t really scared of much.
Landon Sholar certainly brought Prince Eric off the pages of the book and onto the stage, having the look, lyrical tenor and savior faire that make the seafaring royal so enchanting. The relationship between Ariel and Eric was sweet and charming.
Without doubt Tamika McDonald’s Ursula stole the show. With her dynamic and powerhouse delivery, she encapsulated every maniacal and unsavory aspects of the villain. When Ms. McDonald would seemingly give direct eye contact with members of the audience, you could feel how much she was relishing this role. Even when her necklace broke, she just rolled with the punches.
Speaking of a necklace break and the scenery problems mentioned earlier, this poor cast also endured several moments where a costume wasn’t attached correctly or a hat fell off. Not to mention a few times where choreography or lyrics were missed or forgotten. All in all, almost everyone in the company just went about their role as if all was right on stage. So, kudos to you.
The best scene of the evening was the Carnival-like feel of “Under the Sea”, featuring all cast members dancing (good choreography by Sandra Rivera) around on stage and in the crowd among a throng of fanciful fish and glamorous jellyfish and even an appearance of a clever blowfish. Audience members joined in the fun with battery operated bubble makers adding to the frivolity.
CenterStage’s The Little Mermaid had perhaps the largest cast that I have seen on its stage and they all did good work, even though it felt like there was a lack of energy in the beginning, which improved as the show went on.
Music Director Angie Hopperton did wonderful work with her small musical ensemble that also knew how to be a “hot crustacean band”. Costume Design by Susan Toy was fantastic; save for one of Ariel’s last changes, a dress that reminded me of the smock that Belle of Beauty and the Beast wore before she went to the palace. It was just seemed an odd choice.
Like I said, the production team, in the grand scheme, did a great job.
In conclusion, while there are a few technical and musical things that could be tweaked I believe that Jason Cooper and company did a wonderful job and gave us an entertaining evening of theater. And I agree with what Mr. Cooper said within his Director’s Notes: Ariel is a voice of change, of taking charge and being true to herself. You go, girl!
Disney’s The Little Mermaid
April 12 – 29, 2018
For tickets: JewishLouisville.org
CenterStage at JCC
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.