Remember the 1989 Disney film “The Little Mermaid,” about an ambitious young mermaid princess named Ariel who longed to be a “A Part Of (Our) World?” After her father, King Triton, forbids her to return to the surface again, Ariel takes matters into her own hands, making a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula to become human for three days. If she can convince Prince Eric to kiss her (without her voice) by sunset on the third day, she’ll remain human permanently, if she doesn’t, she will spend eternity as Ursula’s slave. Good deal right?
That very film was adapted for the stage in 2007 by original composer Alan Menken, Doug Wright and Howard Ashman. After playing a tryout in Denver, the show opened on Broadway for a short run, but was determined to be too expensive and closed soon after. The original production experienced a bit of difficulty getting off the ground as the original director/choreographer Matthew Bourne, did not agree with the creative direction of the show and left. Subsequent creative minds would decide that the show didn’t need any water or flying effects…huh? Thankfully, the version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid that is playing now at Music Hall at Fair Park, is an entirely re-imagined production that is, arguably, much better and more complex than the production that spawned it.
The plot has evolved a bit too. In fact, I found the stage characters to be much more complex and realistically motivated than the screen characters. King Triton was a character in the film that, to me, was kind of a jerk. He hated humans (why?) and Ursula (why?). The musical hashes his character out in great detail and makes him a lot more sympathetic as the story’s paternal force. King Triton is the son of Poseidon…the God of the Sea, and it turns out, Ursula is his estranged (and totally bitter) evil sister…that explains that. Oh, and as for the humans, Triton believes his deceased wife was killed by humans, hence the hatred of humans. But guess who actually killed her? Look for that answer at the end of Act 2.
The stars of this show are (in no particular order) it’s cast, and it’s production. Dallas Summer Musicals has re-staged this revival from the ground up. Mixing in elements of illusion, flying, projections, and those “Heely” shoes that all the kids were wearing 5 years ago, This “Little Mermaid” is a fabulous, “Broadway-Big,” shining musical spectacle.
The cast is the other element that makes this show a hit. There are so many stellar performances that there is no way to list them all, but a few that really stand out are:
Chelsea Morgan Stock as Ariel – Her portrayal is a perfect balance of ‘girl power’ confidence and innocent naivety, and her vocals are absolutely stunning!
Alan Mingo Jr. as Sebastian – You try taking a an iconic character like Sebastian, a crab with a Jamaican accent, then expand upon it’s framework making the character sympathetic, real, and vocally outstanding…Mingo does this with, what looks like, zero effort.
Liz McCartney as Ursula – It’s not always fun to play the bad guy, but Disney makes the villains so funny and fabulous that it’s hard to hate them completely. Liz McCartney takes Ursula, keeps her darkness, and expands on her humor…mix in diva quality vocals and a larger than life stage presence, and you will adore this character, even after her demise.
Eric Kunze as Eric – I only need five words to describe his performance and vocals, Perfect Broadway Leading Man…PERIOD!
The story is timeless, the cast is stellar, and the new staging is remarkable and magical. Dallas Summer Musicals has produced a blockbuster that is perfect for the entire family. Do not miss this show!
Disney’s The Little Mermaid runs at Music Hall at Fair Park until March 2nd, then Ariel will get her head out of de clouds and back in de water where it belongs. Grab tickets and life jackets for your under sea adventure at DallasSummerMusicals.org.