CHICAGO—When there’s no violent storm, no real shipwreck, and no live seagulls, it’s a bit of a stretch to convey the kind of sea-world setting of the 1989 Walt Disney movie “The Little Mermaid.” But Music Theater Works comes through with a terrific job of conveying a seashore and the kind of underwater world that one experiences in the animated film. More importantly, a show like “The Little Mermaid” is a delight that offers positive and inspirational affirmation.
From Story to Movie to MusicalIndeed, there are plenty of water-logged items hanging from the theater’s rafters, (the set designed by Shane Cinal and Ellen Marcus, with shimmering lighting by Andrew Meyers), and a hint of salt in the air to suggest that we are no longer in a city environment.
With a book by Doug Wright, this theatrical revival is an enchanting delight for kids and their families. The tale revolves around a teenage mermaid princess, Ariel, who is intrigued by the humanity’s world of and wants to explore the land above the sea.
Performers on a Sea StageWhile it’s important to convey an oceanic atmosphere, the most captivating aspect about this show are the performers, some of whom have to portray undulating shell creatures without vertebrae. On the side of evil there’s the horrible sea witch, Ursula, portrayed with great relish by Caroline Lyell, assisted by Gus Franchere as Flotsam, and Anakin White as Jetsam.
On the side of good there is golden-voiced Joselle Reyes as Ariel and her friends Scuttle, portrayed by Clayton Cross; Sebastian played by Wesley Anthony Clerge; Flounder, in a nice turn by Eloise Mulliken; and Ariel’s love interest, Prince Eric, played by a compelling and velvety-voiced Nathan Karnik.
Since this “Mermaid” is a musical, there are plenty of engaging songs composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater, such as “Part of Your World,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Under The Sea,” and “Kiss The Girls.” These are led by music director Celia Villacres and are energized by Flaster and Matthew Weidenbener’s choreography.
For the Young and Not SoThe kids at the show I watched had the look of wondrous enjoyment on their faces as the magic of the spectacle unfolded. Indeed, the adult family members that accompanied the kids looked to be having a good time themselves. But while “The Little Mermaid” is fun entertainment, it also features important messages for youngsters.
For instance, the heroine of the story, Ariel, is courageous. She knows what she wants and is willing to sacrifice for love and freedom. The fantasy demonstrates that every sacrifice has a risk with its own reward.
It also teaches that, even though someone may have achieved a heroic feat such as that of the Mermaid’s saving the prince, they may not be compensated for it. It’s an encouragement to do what one believes is right even though one may not always receive a reward for the effort.
But the show isn’t just for kids. Adults, who also are inundated with poor entertainment choices, will also appreciate this production. Indeed, this show has a way of bringing out the child in everyone.