More than three dozen terrifically talented performers fill Thousand Oaks’ Kavli Theatre with an ocean’s worth of Under The Sea magic this weekend and next as Cabrillo Music Theatre gives Disney The Little Mermaid one of CMT’s biggest and best productions ever.
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 an unrequited teen-nerd crush on 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 crowd-pleaser 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 including Ursula’s “Daddy’s Little Angel,” Scuttle’s “Positoovity,” and Prince Eric’s “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer.”
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 Christina L. Munich’s vivid lighting design and you’ve got a gorgeous palette of saturated colors like few before.
Most excitingly of all, unlike Broadway’s Little Mermaid (which apparently kept its performers glued to the ground), Cabrillo audiences get treated to flying effects (by ZFX, Inc.) that allow Ariel, her ocean friends, and even evil Ursula to “swim” high above the stage (or in Skuttle’s case to take to the air in equally fine fettle).
Ace director Larry Raben gives his cast the freedom to put personal stamps on iconic roles while ensuring that characters remains true to their animated origins.
It’s hard to imagine a more enchanting Ariel than Alison Bagli, the 2015 Cincinnati CCM grad lighting up the Kavli stage with a just-right mix of girl-next-door prettiness, teenage mermaid pluck, and glorious pipes.
As for her Prince Eric, Cabrillo has not only made the savvy decision to cast the role age-appropriately, they have found in University Of Michigan Class Of ‘14’s Conor Guzman an Eric so swoonworthy (and vocally blessed) that he would easily win any young mermaid’s heart.
Lawrence Cummings’ Jamaicalicious Sebastian steals scene after scene after scene, as does Southland gem Debbie Prutsman’a villainicous Ursula (chewing up enemies and scenery with the nefarious worst of them), aided and abetted by towering, hoverboarding hench-duo Flotsam and Jetsam (the deliciously demonic Eric Stanton Betts and Alex Levy).
Delightful supporting turns are delivered by Pablo Rossil (a wild and wacky Scuttle), Michael C. Kennedy (a dorkadorable Flounder), and Tyler Stouffer (Chef Louis as his most French-accented formidable), and by girl-group harmonizing sextet Gillian Bozajian (Atina), Lyrissa Leininger (Adella), Janaya Mahealani Jones (Arista), Missy Marion (Andrina), Jamie Mills (Aquata), and Annie Sherman (Allana), each more alluring (and quirky) than the next.
Completing the cast of principal players are gifted stage vets David Engel (further extending his already broad range of characters with an imposing, gorgeously voiced Triton) and David Gilchrist (giving Eric precisely the substitute father guidance every orphaned Prince needs).
Triple-threats Jeni Baker, John Paul Batista, Alex Choate, Rodd Farhadi, Kevin Gilmond, Scott Hendrickson, Jenny Hoffman, Kurt Kemper, Julia Kreinces, Joey Langford, Janelle Loren, Kenneth Mosley, Brittney Nevison, Jordan Schneider, and Ryan Schultze, and budding child stars Baylee Fogelmanis, Calista Loter, Mia Nelson, Drew Rosen, Marcello Silva, Taylor Lynda Thomas, and Hattie Ugoretz execute Heather Castillo’s effervescent choreography with professional expertise, athleticism, and grace, and Castillo gives them plenty to dazzle with, including the taptastic “Positoovity,” the wacky slapstick of “Les Poissons,” and the magical “Kiss The Girl.”
In the quibble department, I must confess to missing the nonstop undulating “body rolls” that had the cast of a recent Little Mermaid convincing me they were actually under the sea. As for occasional flying or scenery-switching opening night glitches, those are sure to be smoothed out as the run progresses.
Musical director Colin Freeman conducts a Broadway-caliber Cabrillo Music Theatre orchestra, with sound designer Jonathan Burke once again guaranteeing a pitch-perfect mix of vocals and instrumentals.
Additional design credits go to wardrobe supervisor Christine Gibson, hair/makeup designers Cassie Russek and Stephanie Fenner, and props designer Choate.
John W. Calder III is production stage manager. Jack Allaway is technical director. Char Brister is crew captain.
Though most of its action unfolds in the ocean’s deepest depths, Disney The Little Mermaid concludes Cabrillo Music Theatre’s 2015-16 season (and CMT treasure Lewis Wilkenfeld’s last as artistic director) on a sky-high note indeed.
Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.
July 15, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger