(photo courtesy: MTOC)
Written by Patrick Chavis
Originally a Hans Christian Anderson story written in the 1800’s, The Little Mermaid underwent a serious revamping in 1989, courtesy of Disney. It created one of the most successful animate features in Disney filmography, while also cementing the title mermaid Ariel as one of their most popular princesses. There is no need for imagination here, Musical Theatre OC’s The Little Mermaid is Disney to the core. The show posts a high production value–a fun familiar story and a mostly game cast with some minor direction issues.
The Little Mermaid is the story of a teenaged mermaid named Ariel (played by Kristin Atkins) and her father, King Triton. (A lot of people focus exclusively on Ariel, but both father and daughter are pretty relevant, sooo…) Having spent her entire life under the sea, Ariel longs to walk on land and falls in love with the first human she sees because gosh darn it, this is the man for her. Factor in the king’s intense distrust of humanity and the whole thing becomes very Romeo and Juliet. So that she might be with the man she loves, Ariel sells her beautiful singing voice to her evil Aunt Ursula (played by Briana Bonilla). Ariel receives legs, loses her voice, and sets out to fulfill the mandate that she receive true love’s kiss within three days or—and this is where the deal gets a little shaky—she will be doomed to spend eternity as Ursula’s slave. Ah well, we’ve all made bad decisions when we were young. I really think the moral of the story here is “don’t sell your soul”. Meanwhile Ariel’s father King Triton (played by Ron Banks) is a bit too strict, being a single parent and the sole ruler of the seven seas. Eventually he becomes a better father to his daughter.
The musical changes a few things story wise but they’re pretty minor. I think it’s nice that they’ve added some songs in addition to the already popular ones from the movie. While I could definitely live without a few of the unnecessary diddies like Scuttle the seagull’s “Positooivity”, you also have fun songs like “She’s In Love”, where we get to listen to Flounder sing his heart out with Ariel’s six sisters.
There’s very little breathing time in between the dialogue and the sung numbers here. Everyone in the cast sings well. It’s definitely helpful that the plot is so “music centric” because some of the acting seems rather restrained at times, even during moments where you’d be expecting a bit more drama or intensity. If the situation calls for excitement but the energy levels are flat, we have a problem. I’ll just go ahead and pin that on direction, because just about all of the songs are lively and on point.
The use of cables to lift the actors to simulate swimming to land is exhilarating to watch. The backdrops are nice to look at, and it’s these high level production choices that make the viewing experience pretty tasteful.
This might be The Little Mermaid, but my hands-down favorite character of the night is Ursula. Bonilla matches Ursla’s look, style and sly aggressiveness that we’ve all learned to hate from the movie. She also sings a fantastic rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. Another person who deserves a mention is Flounder Ariel’s anxious little fish buddy. Brendan Knox as Flounder is cute and operates his Flounder puppet very well.
Speaking of puppets, they fit in here very well and puppetry trainer Art Vega and designer Aran De La Pena deserve to be commended for elevating the material the way they do.
Due to the use of creative puppetry, clever set design and an overall lovable story, Musical Theatre Orange County’s The Little Mermaid will delight the Disney fan and hold the rest.
July 21 – 30 2017
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