It’s taken nearly ten years for Disney The Little Mermaid to make it from Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to “Under The Sea” at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, but director Glenn Casale’s ingeniously reconceived, spectacularly staged take on the New York original makes it well worth the wait.
Like the 1989 animated feature that re-started it all for Disney back in 1989, The Little Mermaid’s 2007 Broadway adaptation recounts the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale of a sea sprite with dreams of walking on dry land (both literally and down the aisle with her human prince).
Disney Studios added their trademark brand of supporting characters including Sebastian the Jamaican crab, Flounder the blue-finned Flounder, Scuttle the word-inventing seagull, and Ursula the evil sea witch and her aquatic henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam, ocean creatures which the stage adaptation tweaks ever so slightly. (Flounder, for instance, now has a Ducky Dale-style crush on his own personal Andie, aka Ariel.)
And since a movie running well under ninety minutes does not a full-length Broadway musical make, book writer Doug Wright has expanded (and occasionally revised) Ron Clements and John Musker’s screenplay, with Alan Menken and Glenn Slater adding a bunch of new songs to join the Menken/Howard Ashman classics “Part Of Your World,” “Under The Sea,” and “Kiss The Girl.”
The result of all this masterful tinkering is a Broadway musical dazzler that may not follow the movie to the letter (gone, for example, is Ursula’s transformation into an Ariel-voiced “Vanessa”) but fleshes out characters with new songs. We learn, for instance, about Ursula’s evil past in “Daddy’s Little Angel” (added to the Casale reimagining), Scuttle gets to school Ariel in “Positoovity,” and Prince Eric is given his own solos in “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer.”
Adding to the Broadway pizzazz are musical numbers (brilliantly choreographed here by John McInnis) that give us Vegas glitter, glitz, and plumes in “Under The Sea,” vaudeville-style tapping in “Positoovity,” and ‘60s girl-group moves in “She’s In Love.”
All of this underwater magic takes place on scenic designer Kenneth Foy’s fabulously fanciful sets with characters sporting Amy Clark and Mark Koss’s supremely imaginative costumes. (Kudos to Clark and Koss for figuring out how to do without fins in addition to adapting fish and crustaceans to human proportions.) Add to that Charlie Morrison’s vibrant lighting design and you’ve got the most gorgeous palette of saturated colors I can recall seeing in a Broadway musical.
Most excitingly of all, unlike Broadway’s Little Mermaid (which apparently kept its performers glued to the ground), Casale’s reimagining features masterful flight choreography by Paul Rubin that allows Ariel and her ocean friends to “swim” high above the stage (or in Skuttle’s case to take to the air in equally fine fettle).
Casale’s Little Mermaid has us hook, line, and sinker from the moment we first meet Ariel, brought to absolutely beguiling life by Alison Woods, cute, spunky, charming, impetuous, romantic, and possessed of pipes so glorious they would turn any prince’s head.
Eric Kunze is as handsome and golden-voiced as any Eric should be, Fred Inkley makes an impressively imposing King Triton, Time Winters provides engaging support as royal retainer Grimsby, and Jeff Skowron once again proves himself a master scene-stealer as Sebastian’s chief foe Chef Louis.
Still, it’s the aquatic featured players who will have children and adults standing up and cheering (or booing as the case may be): Melvin Abston’s Caribbean charmer of a Sebastian, Adam Garst’s adorably smitten Flounder (nerd meets geek meets skater dude), Jamie Torcellini’s wonderfully wacky Scuttle (paying tribute to the movie’s Buddy Hackett with a bit of Ed “I Love To Laugh” Wynn thrown in), and Scott T. Leiendecker and Jeffrey Christopher Todd’s marvelously menacing Flotsam and Jestam.
Most sensational of all is the divine Tracy Lore, outdoing herself as the sea witch to end all sea witches while chewing the scenery to scrumptiously spellbinding effect.
In addition to portraying multiple land-and-sea characters to triple-threat perfection, ensemble members Ashley Anderson, Kim Arnett, Kristine Bennett, Marjorie Failoni, Melissa Glasgow, Devon Hadsell, Michael McGurk, Amanda Minano, Dennis O’Bannion, Marco Ramos, Aaron Rochelle, James Shackelford, and Brian Steven Shaw’s non-stop undulating “body rolls” convince us they are indeed under the sea, with Arnett’s Aquata, Bennett’s Andrina, Failoni’s Allana, Glasgow’s Arista, Hadsell’s Attina, and Minano’s Adella earning bonus points for their Dreamgirls harmonies and “Gulls” McGurt, O’Banion, and Shackelford scoring their own for some taptastic Scuttle backup.
Musical director/conductor Colin R. Freeman and his pitch-perfect pit orchestra dazzle too as do sound designer Julie Ferrin, original soundscape designer Gareth Owen, and hair and wig designer Leah J. Louka.
Disney The Little Mermaid is presented by McCoy Rigby Entertainment in association with Mt. Beacon Productions, Inc. Casting is by Julia Flores. Michael McEowen is production stage manager.
With humor and heart to match its eye-popping spectacle, Disney The Little Mermaid is that rarity in family-friendly musical theater, a show that adults can truly enjoy as much as (and perhaps even more than) the kids who bring them in tow.
For the next few weeks at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, Ariel swims supreme.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
June 4, 2016
Photos: Bruce Bennett, Theatre Under the Stars