OREM — Although The Little Mermaid has been a stage production since 2007 (with the current version of Doug Wright‘s script available since 2012) I hadn’t seen it until recently. It hadn’t been high on my list of shows I wanted to see, but after watching it at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre I realized I’ve been missing out on a great show.
The musical version of The Little Mermaid, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Salter, has many of the songs loved in the original Disney 1989 animated film, with plenty of new songs to delight. There are a few changes to the stage version, including what ultimately happens to Ursula, in order to make a stage performance possible.
The show opened by plunging into a new song, “The World Above,” sung Hannah Bayles in the role of Ariel. She kicked the show off with a solid opening number, which was followed by an equally strong number, “Fathoms Below” from the male ensemble. Bayles was a well cast in her role as Ariel. Her interpretation of Ariel had less whining than the cartoon version, but she still acted like a teenager. I especially loved her interactions with the seagull, Scuttle (played by Eric Smith). From the moment Scuttle came careening down the aisles he brought a high energy on stage. As Scuttle told Ariel about the human treasures she’d found his birdlike movement made me smile. He definitely made and entrance and an impression.
Another favorite character was Sebastian, played by Kyle Baugh. Sebastian is a music lover and composer who also happens to be a crab. Baugh captured the music nerd side of Sebastian, while giving him a Jamaican personality and voice. I especially enjoyed his performance in “Under the Sea” where he hit some amazing and unexpected notes and had me and my child dancing in out seats. I also enjoyed his panic during the “Les Poissons” number and reprise as he was running for his life.
Although I loved the hero characters of this story, my favorite characters by far were Ursula (played by Allison Books) and her henchman eels, Flotsam (played by Lucas Pessoa) and Jetsam (played by Zac Thorn). Their voices and characters meshed perfectly, and I especially enjoyed “Daddy’s Little Angel.” From the moment Books entered the stage as Ursula she was in command of the huge outdoor SCERA Shell. She was not the disgusting villain from the cartoon, but rather a sassy, beautiful, and powerful presence, and her evil pet eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, enhanced her charisma. The eels were amazing puppets designed by Nat Reed and Christy Norton, each operated by two people. I loved that as Pessoa and Thorn operated the heads of the puppets, and while being the voices of Flotsam and Jetsam, they also acted the parts. Their facial expressions were diabolical and mischievous, and their movements slithery and sneaky. There was a perfect balance between the human talent and the puppetry.
Now for the part I have been dying to writing about: the costumes! Deborah Bowman has outdone herself with the costume designs for this show. From fish headpieces on chorus members, to colorful mermaids, to the crowing jewel of Ursula’s costume there was so much to see and admire. This show is worth seeing just for the costumes. I had seen Ariel, Eric, Flounder, and Sebastian in promotional photos prior to attending the show, and I had high expectations for the rest of the costumes. When Scuttle came zooming in I loved his feathered wig, fringe covered pants, and his dapper shoes and vest. I anxiously awaited for Ursula’s entrance, curious about how she would be costumed. There was an audible reaction from audience members when she finally made her debut. Sparkling purples, blacks, and hints of green made her costume not disgusting, but glorious and a bit sexy. Her outer skirt and octopus legs were attached to small casters which allowed her to move with grace. The outer skirt was open in front revealing a sparkling purple and black mermaid skirt that gave Ursula the ability to strut her stuff and sway her hips. Her hair looked like a sculpture of corral. All of the costume designs were accented by the hair and makeup designs of Cole McClure.
There are so many good things to say about this production that I only have a few things I’d suggest be done to improve the production. First, the sound was painfully loud, especially during the scenes where many miked characters were speaking at once, such as the mermaid sisters protesting to their father. During many scenes strips of blue fabric were used to create waves, a common effect to represent water. It almost worked here, but the illusion was still sometimes disappointing. There were many scenes were I could see between the bands of fabric and some of the illusions was lost, such as when Ariel has turned human but I could still see her mermaid tail.
Another thing I found distracting were some prop malfunctions that were ignored when they could have been acknowledged by cast members and made less obvious. For example, during the frustrated pounding of Grimsby’s staff the top popped off and everyone on stage ignored it. It broke the illusion, as did a wine glass that kept getting kicked around during the palace chase scene. However, the entire production was still very enjoyable.
I felt that this cast was equally strong throughout in their vocal talent, acting, and dancing. I only noticed a few sour notes that I feel will not be making appearances in future performances. Group numbers were well balanced and blended, thanks to DeLayne Dayton‘s music direction. I could understand most of the lyrics and I didn’t feel like I had to focus hard on the vocal performances; I could just enjoy the show. The choreography Pat Debenham was fun and well executed especially in the “Under the Sea” number. I think it says a lot of Shawn M. Mortensen‘s directing that a show of this scale was so well balanced. I highly recommend the SCERA’s production of The Little Mermaid. It is appropriate and fun for all audiences, and is the perfect kickoff to the SCERA Shell’s outdoor season.