Kansas City, MO —
When Disney brought the animated musical “The Little Mermaid” to the screen in 1989, it was a big gamble. It had been years since the studio had an animated hit and Disney’s very future was in the balance.
Fortunately, the movie was a hit and marked the beginning of the “Disney Renaissance.” Nearly twenty years later, the stage adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fantasy made it to Broadway. The current production at Starlight Theatre is an enchanting, beautifully produced version that should have wide appeal for family audiences.
A co-production from Starlight, Paper Mill Playhouse and Pittsburgh CLO, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” is something of a reimagining of the Broadway version.
Director Glenn Casale, noted for previous productions of “Peter Pan,” opted to use Paul Rubin (“The Fly Guy”) to employ wire-supported flight choreography to simulate underwater swimming. (The Broadway production featured characters on roller skates.) This move alone adds additional magic to a show that already has a terrific score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, a clever book by Doug Wright, strong production values and a terrific cast.
Jessica Grové plays Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton (Edward Watts). She’s a restless teenage mermaid fascinated by the forbidden surface world populated by creatures that walk on two feet. Things get complicated when she saves the life of a drowning human, Price Eric (Nick Adams).
Grové is well suited for the role, possessing a beautiful voice and capably projecting Ariel’s playful spirit. Adams is every bit her match, demonstrating impressive vocal chops and ample stage charisma.
But the show is practically stolen from under their noses by four outstanding supporting performers.
Alan Mingo, Jr. plays the protective crab Sebastian. He owns play’s show-stopping calypso number, “Under the Sea” and the playful ballad, “Kiss the Girl.”
Liz McCartney is also impressive as the memorably malevolent sorceress, Ursula, who oozes evil as she sings act one’s closing number, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
Not too many actors can say that they can sing, act, tap dance and fly…but Matt Allen does all four impressively as the simpleton seagull, Scuttle. He adds a new word to the Disney lexicon, “Positoovity.”
Timothy Shew gets a moment to shine as Chef Louis, adding a slapstick element to the show with his ode to preparing fish entrees, “Les Poissons.”
All of the production values are first rate, even though there were some sound glitches during Wednesday night’s performance that caused a brief delay.
The only real problem with “The Little Mermaid” is its length. It’s much too drawn out for a show whose target audience has an attention span that’s “Sesame Street” short. Cutting at least three superfluous numbers would give the show a snappier, more palatable pace.
But that’s another kettle of fish. All in all, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” is a welcome undersea adventure well worth diving into.
“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” runs through July 28th at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City, Mo. Information is available by calling 816-363.STAR (7827) or by visiting www.kcstarlight.com.
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