Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Musical,” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, is the charming production closing the Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s 2016-17 Season.
This underwater fun romp is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a bored Mermaid named Ariel who falls in love with the human Prince Eric and wants to swap her tail for legs in order to pursue him in the land above her home under water. Ariel’s father, King Triton, denies her request, so the rebellious daughter seeks out the evil sea witch, Ursula, who makes a deal with Ariel to trade her voice for a set of legs to transverse the upper world and win her love.
As with many fishy bargains, it is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea.
Once more, director/choreographer Jon Douglas Rake has amassed a cast of 22 to help tell the beloved story through song and dance with a lot of good acting and direction going on.
Rake has his leads “swimming” across and above the stage to spy upon the good prince as his boat travels across the top of Ariel’s home. The wires supporting the undersea creatures are nigh invisible as they fly through the make-believe waters – a very nice magical touch.
Jeffrey Stvrtecky is Musical Director, who brings out the best of the voices singing “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World,” among other clever, funny songs and haunting love ballads.
Stvrtecky also directs the TMP Orchestra which includes Sabrina Juhl, Zachary Kellogg and Jenessa Stout on reeds; Rick Leffler, trumpet; Mark Willis, French Horn; Iris McBride, percussion/drums; and Addison Ki’ai as orchestra extra. The orchestra, although making beautiful music, was a bit overbearing in this production, sometime drowning out some of the strong singing voices, even though they are miked.
Dennis Kurtz brings ships and mermaid rocks and clamshells on stage to maintain a beautiful undersea look for a backdrop for the cast’s activities.
John Chenault lights the stage with watery gobos to keep the swimming creatures in their natural habitat; Chenault uses a few special effects to show underwater happenings
ZFX Flying Effects supplies the excellent crew of tech people to keep the denizens of the deep swimming though the watery air.
Costume Designer Jocelyne Fowler splashes the stage with a cacophony of color to delight the eye and increase the effectiveness of the story.
Rake draws on many of TMP’s known stable of regulars to create the story he tells with aplomb. His cast is not one of the director’s largest but it is ample with 11 feature performers and one more of ensemble players.
The Female Ensemble doubles as Ariel’s Mersisters; they include: Heather Arneson, Megan Castillo, Cassandra Dechant, Ariel Duchesne, Emma Konop and Tasha Smith; all dance swimmingly well and sing like the Lorelei.
The Male Ensemble is made up of Keoni Dilay, Nick Fitzgerald, James Stanford, Corey Thompson, Naa’rai Tilson and Tony Lewis Williams. This back-up musically talented crew fills in for various fishy members of the cast; like the distaff side of the cast, all do equally well in their roles.
Nancy Herbert Bach is the evil Ursula, the 8-tendril creature who cons our heroine into making a questionable decision. Bach’s voice is as strong as her character is formidable.
The conniving octopus is assisted in her malicious plans by Derek Mesford as Flotsam and Josh Anderman as Jetsam. These two sly electric eels slither about the stage with well-planned characterization.
Johnny Neidlinger is King Triton, lord of the underwater world and Ariel’s regal father. With trident in hand and crown on head, the bare-chested Neidlinger has the look of his character; when he sings, he exudes the King’s power and father’s love for his youngest daughter.
John Miller as Grimsby accompanies Ariel’s love across the seas, much to his disdain; he is not a good sailor and acts the part very well.
Colin Briskey is the object of Ariel’s affections Prince Eric. Briskey has a wonderfully clear baritone voice which brings out the strength of his character whether singing “Her Voice” or “One Step Closer,” Briskey’s voice speaks love.
Cherisse Martinelli sings Ariel with an amazingly strong voice and feeling. Martinelli makes the mermaid naïve and gentle and quiet and feisty and demanding, all while remaining lovable when singing “The World Above” inquisitively or “Part of Your World” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” with love and hope.
The various seafood which populate the bottom of the ocean compose an excellent back-up cast for our heroine, from all walks – or swimming – or flying – of life.
Isaiah Parker plays the hard-boiled crab Sebastian, sent by her father to watch over Ariel to ensure she doesn’t get into any trouble. Sebastian has his job cut out for him, and Parker plays his character with all the snap and dither a crustacean would muster while flitting about the stage; very funny.
William Hebert is Flounder, Ariel’s right-hand go-to for advice and help. Hebert is excellent as the slender, flat fish, who swims around his princess with loyalty and affection when he realizes that “She’s in Love” and sings it to the court with the Mersisters; a very nice job.
Erik Furuheim has two roles, the Captain of Eric’s ship and Chef Louis. As the Captain, Furuheim is ship-shape – but as Chef Louis, he comes close to stealing the show when preparing the table for Eric and Ariel’s banquet. Of course, he has chosen seafood for all the courses and puts them Mise en Place in front of the audience — or, at least tries to – while fighting with Sebastian as trying to get him to a pot and on the table instead of under it! The scene is invigoratingly exhausting and fathoms of fun. Good job by Chef Furuheim and all the sea-folk involved.
The final member of the cast is one of the South Sounds best and most prolific musical talents. Jake Atwood is Scuttle, Ariel’s seagull friend who overlooks her actions and guards her from harm and mistakes from above. Atwood is a joy to watch whenever he is on stage or flying over it. He struts his stuff and ruffles his feathers in tune to “”Positoovity” with his chorus of female seagulls. Atwood’s singing and dancing is Grade A as is his acting.
“The Little Mermaid Musical” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through July 30, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
Don’t make a mistake. This is not a show just for the kids. In fact, there were very few children at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse for the opening Sunday Matinee. All young ones who did attend were perfectly behaved and enthralled – but so were the grown-ups who ventured to relive their favorite fairytale.
When you see “The Little Mermaid” on the movie screen, it’s a good animated feature. When you see “The Little Mermaid” live, onstage, it is the fresh catch of the day and an entirely different experience. Don’t miss the chance to swim along with your favorite fish-folk and fall in love with Hans Christian Andersen’s enchanting characters anew.