It’s been years since I’d last seen the crimson-haired songstress of the sea on the big screen, and getting to sing right along with our favorite fishy friends on stage was a truly nostalgic treat for me.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale and Disney’s 1989 animated film adaptation, The Little Mermaid engulfs us in an aquatic adventure with Princess Ariel (Kate Suhr), a whimsical and venturesome young mermaid from a kingdom called Atlantica who yearns to live onshore with humans, particularly the handsome Prince Eric (Matt Chenuz).
Her father, King Triton (William Alexander Doyle) forbids it, long believing that humans were responsible for his wife’s death, so Ariel strikes a deal with his wicked sister Ursula (Kit Boulter), who Triton banished to a shadowy lair deep in the sea. Using her alchemy, Ursula transforms Ariel into a human in exchange for her beautiful voice. However, there’s a catch: in order to remain human, she must earn a true love’s kiss from Eric despite being unable to speak to him, or she will have to forfeit her soul to Ursula.
In many respects, this script addresses what some film critics see as flaws of the animated feature. We are given an actual backstory as to why Triton and Ursula despise each other, turning a black-and-white, good versus evil story into a more realistic familial conflict. While on the subject, one might argue that The Little Mermaid is really about Triton’s character arc as told through Ariel’s point of view, and the musical clearly brings this theme to the forefront.
This allows for a more meaningful characterization of Ariel and Triton. Ariel, as a character, is an eternal recipient of polarizing reception, because some consider her flighty and fretful, while others see her personality as charming and reminiscent of a teenage girl, which she is. Any issues that reviewers might have with her are undone by Suhr’s spectacular performance.
It is true that Ariel is passionate and driven, going to extreme lengths to get what she wants. But Suhr shows us that her curiosity can be very endearing. Through her dialogue and musical numbers, we find that she’s open to new experiences, but also thinks about how her decisions may be affecting her loved ones, even if she does end up making mistakes.
We also witness a brooding, emotional Triton portrayed wonderfully by Doyle. He starts off believing in his infallibility, but as the plot progresses, he realizes he needs to develop a connection with his daughter and understand that, just like in marine life, not all humans are cold-blooded killers. If I had one nitpick, it would be that Doyle should perhaps deliver a little more menace in his voice when angry. His voice is absolutely perfect for the role, and I feel he should take complete advantage of it.
My favorite songs are your favorite songs; Suhr sings “Part of Your World” with enchanting grace, Boulter’s take on “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is delectably diabolical, and “Under the Sea” is iconic, with good reason. The numbers in the show are a myriad of upbeat fun, soothing romance, introspection and villainous scheming, with the vocal chops of our performers to match each scenario.
I’m happy that Eric has multiple songs, making his character much more intriguing to watch. Chenuz delivers a stellar performance as the not-so- typical dashing prince; in fact, he cares little for his title in favor of sailing the sea and exploring all of its mysteries. He is also shown to be very patient and genuinely caring towards Ariel while she is under Ursula’s spell.
Due to some technical difficulties during my viewing, there were times where I either couldn’t hear parts of the performances well, or times when the audio was too loud. The former was especially the case during Harold Lumilan’s performance as Sebastian. The choreography was also somewhat choppy and simplistic. I like that some ballroom dancing was incorporated and I would’ve liked to see more of that during group dances.
I give kudos to Mikael Kangas and Michael Galloro for creating an underwater realm with their colorful and thalassic-looking sets and lights. My favorite moments were whenever Ariel “swam” in pitch blackness with occasional spotlights showing her progress.
Holly Meyer-Dymny and Erin Gerofsky’s diverse and vibrant costumes correspond nicely with both the humans and sentient creatures. The jellyfish during “Under the Sea” really stood out, and I enjoyed Chef Louis’ (Evan Benyacar) oversized attire, as it allowed for various comedic gestures.
There are instances where some lines do feel rushed, and the pacing can be a little uneven, but rest assured that The Little Mermaid is an exciting underwater fantasy that will keep your attention all the way through.
Presented by Joseph Patrick and Maurice Galpern, and directed by Alan Kinsella, The Little Mermaid is playing at the Randolph Theatre until April 24. For more information, visit lowerossingtontheatre.com.
Cast: Kate Suhr, Kit Boulter, Harold Lumilan, April Clemmens, Kierans Jordan, Matt Chenuz, William Doyle, Danik McAfee, Hannah Ehman, Scott Labonte, Erin Winsor, Moulan Bourke, Elizabeth Rose Morris, Jessica Harb, Ali Hand, Jess McKay, Evan Benyacar, Holly McCourt