When Broadway San Jose announced its 2017 lineup, I will admit, I was a little more than excited about THE LITTLE MERMAID. As far as Disney movies and childhood nostalgia go, this one is at the top of my list. I was a red head. Ariel was a red head. I was living in the Central Valley, a place where I never really fit in. Ariel lived “Under the Sea” and also never felt like she belonged there. Like Ariel, I was a bit defiant and I knew I needed to go beyond to find true happiness. Most little girls have a Disney princess they relate to and Ariel was mine. There is a strong history of Disney movies being successfully adapted to Broadway shows. THE LION KING uses the magic of puppetry to recreate the Serengeti. The stage adaptation of CINDERELLA amazingly brought the magic of the Fairy Godmother to life. I could not wait to see how this production could bring the audience fathoms below into the mermaid world.
Sadly, THE LITTLE MERMAID is not as successful in recreating the wonder of the movie. The main problem had to do with the staging and costuming. From the opening scene with the giant plastic sea bubbles, to the cartoonish ship Prince Eric rides in on, it is clear scenic designer Kenneth Foy is trying to evoke the same feel of the movie, but the theme is not consistent, so the cartoonish features feel out of place. Where the staging was more successful was through the use of wires to facilitate the mermaids “swimming” in the air. With flowing tails gliding up and down the stage, you finally get the feeling of this underwater world.
The costuming also was very hit or miss. Ursula’s dress, hair and makeup were spot on and, but I missed Ariel’s bright red hair, Flounder looked more like a blue and yellow oompa loompa and while Flotsam and Jetsam had very cool electric lighting, they often looked more like dinosaurs skating around the stage instead of slithering sea eels.
Staging and styling problems aside, there are many aspects of THE LITTLE MERMAID that make the show worth a watch, particularly for the many younger audience members. Diana Huey, as Ariel evokes the earnest, spunky and sweet nature of the young princess and her voice is every bit as strong as the original Ariel. While Ariel is kind and innocent, Jennifer Allen brings all that is sinister to her role as Ursula the sea witch. She is equal parts evil and funny and every scene in her lair is a delight.
THE LITTLE MERMAID definitely celebrates the comedic moments of the movie. Melvin Abston as Sebastian and Jamie Torcellini as Scuttle both bring a wonderfully funny and lighthearted feeling to each scene they are in. Dane Stokinger shines as Chef Louis in hands down the best scene of the show, “Les Poissons”.
While not perfect, THE LITTLE MERMAID was a great night out and while it may disappoint an avid theater buff, or original movie super fan, there is no doubt young children will enjoy this production.
THE LITTLE MERMAID plays now through Sunday, October 1 at the Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.). Tickets for THE LITTLE MERMAID are available for $48 – $203 via www.broadwaysanjose.com or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787)