Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ by the North Shore Music Theatre

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ – Book by Doug Wright; Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman (written for the film); Additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. Directed by Michael Heitzman; Choreography by AC Ciulla; Music Direction by Bruce Barnes; Scenic Design by Howard C. Jones Costume Design by Kurt Alger. Presented by the North Shore Music Theatre through July 27th.

As a middle-aged man with no kids, I must admit that I was not looking
forward to seeing/reviewing the North Shore Music Theatre’s (terrific)
production of “The Little Mermaid” as much as say,
“Chicago” later this season. But given that NSMT consistently delivers
high quality productions, I figured it was worth the trip from Boston for a
theater experience, regardless of the material. I am pleased to say that it was
more than well worth the trip, despite the usual traffic jam on 93 getting to
the theater from Boston, (which I could have minimized by leaving earlier).

Based on the animated 1989 Disney film of the same name and the classic
story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, the story follows
familiar themes of not fitting in and following your heart, but with a
brilliant score and a first-rate cast, this is not just a show for the kiddies
(as I had feared). Although there certainly were plenty of (well-behaved) tykes
at the show, many of them dressed up as characters from the movie/musical, this
show will appeal to all ages. I must
admit that I had never seen the original movie or a stage version, so I was
very taken by the clever mix of pseudo-mythology and plain old great storytelling in
the narrative.

For those of you not familiar with the plot, we quickly learn the Ariel
(played brilliantly by NYC student Adrienne Eller), the seventh and youngest
daughter of King Triton, ruler of the seas, is fascinated with the human world,
which we discover as she touchingly sings in the opening number (“The
World Above”). Her father does not want her interacting with humans, whom
he holds responsible for the death of his wife and queen, Athena. But above the
sea is the soon-to-be object of her affection, Prince Eric and his shipmates.
Ariel and the Prince fall for each other when he is blown overboard during a
storm and she rescues him, setting the stage for romance. As with all Disney
classics, there’s also a healthy dose of evil thrown in, in the form of Ursula
the Sea Witch, King Triton’s sister who was banished from the king’s court for
using black magic.

One of the great strengths of this show is its diverse and engaging score,
which adds doo-wop, Caribbean (“Under the Sea”)and girl group numbers
(“She’s in Love”) to the more standard Broadway musical structures,
and also adds a great comic number in “Positoovity”. And this
talented cast knows how to make the most of this well-conceived material. Eller
is a joy to watch and listen to, especially during “Part of Your World”,
after she falls for the Prince. Kecia
Lewis is a vocal powerhouse as Ursula, with the pipes of a blues belter, and
she shines on “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. Another gem was the brilliant
ensemble number “If Only” by the quartet of Prince Eric (Bruce
Landry), Ariel, King Triton and Sebastian, the crab. As Sebastian, J. Cameron
Barnett is masterful, and does a nice job on the “Under the Sea” number. And
as King Triton, Mark Campbell brings a truly regal presence, complete with a
booming tenor befitting a prototypical powerful king. Freddie Kimmel also does
a nice comic turn as Scuttle, the Norm Crosby-inspired gull.

Scenic designer Howard C. Jones and costume designer Kurt Alger set the
stage by creating a beautiful and very believable undersea world, which is all
the more impressive given that the story requires multiple scene changes from
both above and below the surface. The costuming is dynamite, with the brilliant
colors of the animated original brought beautifully to the stage. This is a
really fun production, with a great cast. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy
it, but it will certainly bring out the kid in you. For more info, go to: http://www.nsmt.org/

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