Regional Reviews: Seattle
Disney's The Little Mermaid
Disney's The Little Mermaid at the 5th Avenue Theatre may be the best film to stage transfer of the highly profitable theatrical division of the late Uncle Walt's company. It has been revised (the tune-stack has been reshuffled and revamped, and dialogue tweaked since the relatively short running Broadway version), and director Glenn Casale's spot-on take on the tale, along with Paul Rubin's expert flying staging of the underwater sequences, John MacInnis jaunty and jovial choreography, and Colin R. Freeman's expert musical direction, combine for what amounts to the 5th Avenue's best production of 2016.
Whether you know Disney's The Little Mermaid from the classic film that re-started the company's long-dormant animated musicals series, or from the quite different original Hans Christian Andersen tale, the gist of the plot follows an endearing little mermaid named Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton (himself a child of Poseidon), who harbors feelings for the handsome young seafaring Prince Eric, and desires to be (song cue) part of his world. Her exiled aunt, the uber-awful sea-witch Ursula, offers Ariel three days to win a kiss from Eric, who is already smitten with her haunting voice. The wrinkle in all this is she must do all of this while her vocal chords are on hold, and she must surrender her life to Auntie Ursula if the Prince fails to fall in love and kiss the girl. Disapproving daddy King Triton presents his own set of challenges to his favorite daughter, but since Ariel has sturdy sea and air companions (far more help than Snow White had with just birds and seven dwarfs), she may have a dream come true fairy-tale ending ahead.
Doug Wright, playwright of the very different I Am My Own Wife, succinctly and successfully rejiggered the screenplay for the musical stage. The cast is gold, starting with Seattle native Diana Huey as Ariel. A promising Cornish grad in what seems just minutes ago, Huey has honed her crafts in New York for several years (with some 5th gigs in between) and here emerges the total triple threat I always knew her to be. From ravishing renditions of composer Howard Ashman and lyricists Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater's songs, such as "Part of Your World," "The World Above," and "Beyond My Wildest Dreams," to making her swim-flying look simple, to giving the character more of a backbone, Ms. Huey is the passionate heart of this production.
Two vets of previous productions of the Casale version of Little Mermaid are Jennifer Allen as Ursula and Jamie Torcellini as Ariel's seagull associate Scuttle. Allen looks almost exactly as you saw Ursula in the film, but is given more of a character arc, and an additional comic number, "Daddy's Little Angel," which is a good companion piece to the famous "Poor Unfortunate Souls." She is a big bundle of bodacious villainy and sings like Ethel Merman left her vocal chords to herand she knows how to get the most out of every line and lyric, so much so, that she got curtain applause second to only Ms. Huey. Torcellini's wise-cracking seagull is given Borscht-belt bravado by this diminutive power-ball of a performer, and his solo "Positoovity" number proves a case of putting his personal stamp and pizzazz to work on a number that might otherwise be considered a fun, throwaway piece.
As Prince Eric, Matthew Kacergis takes on one of the most wooden Princes in the cabinet of Disney woodwork princes and brings out the heart, humanity, and heartthrob handsomeness the role really needs. He is also suitably paired physically with the diminutive Diana Huey, by being of average stature rather than towering over her. Kacergis also has a rich, clear voice on display in the touching "Her Voice" and in the mix of the "If Only" quartet (a ravishing show piece teaming Prince Eric with Ariel, King Triton, and Sebastian.) Speaking of Sebastian the Crab, a big hand to his portrayer Melvin Abston, who delivers two of the score's most memorable numbers, "Under The Sea" and "Kiss the Girl," with exactly the kind of Calypso charisma and vocal vigor needed, and he brings a wonderful beleaguered air to the character. Steve Blanchard's vocal prowess and command of the stage makes one yearn for his King Triton to have more lines.
Brandon Roach and Frederick Hagreen as Ursula's eel minions Flotsam and Jetsam are slimily successful in kowtowing to their sea-witch boss. An unrecognizable Dane Stokinger is a howl as Chef Louis, and he steals act two with the super silly solo "Les Poissons." Connor Russell is adorably dorky as Flounder, another of Ariel's pals, and Allen Fitzpatrick as Eric's mentor Grimsby imbues his character with a perfect mixture of pomposity and parental warmth; his fine voice is a welcome asset to any musical.
The show looks as good as the performances are, with fine contributions from Kenneth Foy's sets both under and above the sea, Charlie Morrison's fanciful lighting, and Amy Clark and Mark Ross' out of a picture book costumes. The new and improved 5th Avenue sound system does credit to the expert sound design by Ed Chapman.
Disney's The Little Mermaid runs through December 31st, 2016, at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave, downtown Seattle. Go to www.5thavenue.org for tickets and further information.