IVINS — Disney’s The Little Mermaid has been entertaining audiences in some format since 1989. In 2007, the animated movie was adapted for the stage with book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. The story is based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson of the young mermaid that falls in love with a human prince and trades her voice with the sea witch to get the chance to try and win the heart of the prince against the wishes of her father. Throughout the story, her choice impacts her ability to interact with her hopeful love, and she experiences what it means to sacrifice part of herself.
The Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins has perfected the use of theater tech in its beautiful outdoor location nestled in the mountains, and this current re-imagined production of The Little Mermaid, directed by Jani Walsh-Weber, is no exception. One of the best artistic choices was to have Ariel on wires and “swimming” through the air with aerial choreography by Cees De Kok. This choice coupled with impressive set design by Adam Koch, projection design by Brad Peterson, and lighting design by Nick Van Houghten provided visuals new to live theatre. Tuacahn successfully combined the elements that have previously been limited to just the screen or just the stage and are now in one space for a magical evening. I also must mention how glad I am that Tuacahn remains committed to providing live orchestra for their events. The live orchestra directed by Christopher Babbage was exquisite.
The other major star in this production was the costume design by Dustin Cross. A vibrant choice of colors, a mix of designs for above ground and underground, and some fun quick changes made the show aesthetically impressive. My favorite costumes were in the song, “She’s in Love,” which also had my favorite vocals by Matthew Marvin as the charismatic and endearing Flounder, Ariel’s best friend and confidant who has mixed feelings about losing his friend to this new flame. Marvin had some of the best vocals of the evening, and his costume was fantastic.
Another standout performance was Wilkie Ferguson III as Sebestian. Both “Under The Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are favorites in any production of The Little Mermaid and this latest rendition at Tuacahn held up that tradition. The costuming, staging, and choreography by Walsh-Weber were all entertaining for both of these numbers. Ursula’s costume is a must-see, and the vocals and sinister evil brought to her character by Lindsay Roginski was thoroughly enjoyable. Much of the set was re-imagined from the original Broadway run and different from the last time this show was mounted here at Tuacahn. The differences were mostly impressive, though some were a bit strange, such as Triton, played by Dallyn Vail Bayles moving around on a scooter. Sebastian was also transported via scooter, though that choice seemed more fitting of the character.
While Ariel herself played by Emily Grace Tucker was also impressive and entertaining, Eric, played by Josh Strickland was a bit overstated and felt out of place within the production. Strickland’s facial expressions were labored and intentional and even a bit awkward, feeling out of place and unnatural as Eric. Strickland’s vocals were strong and beautiful, but his overenthusiastic smiles and movements feel out of place and made his interactions with Ariel and other cast members feel dramatized and inauthentic.
As a full production, this rendition of The Little Mermaid was missing something. Perhaps it was a lack of significant definition of the differences between the world under the sea and the human world. The natural backdrop that southern Utah provides is one of the best things that Tuacahn Center for the Arts has, and I have seen many of the productions mounted there really use that for their benefit. However, in this production there were a few scenes where the sea and the human world cross over, such as the quartet, “If Only,” sung by Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, and King Triton. While the vocals were strong, the set gave no indication between being under the sea and being above ground, something that could have been expounded upon by scenic designer Koch. Additionally during the finale, when the wedding is held, it would have been fun to add some specific sea and turf elements to accentuate the sea versus land theme.
The Little Mermaid was on point for the aerial choices; however, there were many missed opportunity within the rest of the production, and much of the show was left feeling rather hollow. I found myself a little more disappointed than I expected. It was a fun production, and one that any fan of Disney or The Little Mermaid would enjoy, but I will admit that perhaps I was expecting a bit more from the full production. Be that as it may, it was still an enchanted evening, and Disney fans will have a fun time under the stars going under the sea in the desert at Tuacahn.