IVINS — The classic children’s story The Little Mermaid, originally conceived by Hans Christian Andersen, is the story of a young mermaid princess who, although she apparently has everything, longs and reaches for something higher, something more. Through the iconic music of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Glenn Slater, the audience is transported from the mundane human world to become part of her world.
I have three daughters who were just the right age when the 1989 Disney animated feature came out. I got to watch that movie countless times, fully ingraining the songs and story in my mind. This the first time I have seen the live theatrical version. Knowing I would be reviewing the performance helped me to experience this production in a new and different way. This was also my first time at Tuacahn, so my expectations were high.
The first impressions of this production were of the stage being completely flooded to facilitate Prince Eric’s ship. Tuacahn’s ability to use water extensively for both under and above the sea scenes was well utilized by the scenic designer, Doug Ellis. The water curtain was especially effective in portraying scenes under the water, which was the location of most of the first act.
James Royce Edwards‘s portrayal of Prince Eric was generally entertaining and believable. He was a little behind the music in his solo early in “Fathoms Below,” however. Edwards also seemed to take too long to fall in love with Ariel (played by Emma Degerstedt). The director, Scott S. Anderson, could have pushed for a more “love-at-first-sight” portrayal. Nevertheless, Edwards did have a strong singing voice and a princely demeanor and charm. His performance of “Her Voice” was heart-wrenching and poignant.
Degerstadt as Ariel was wonderfully cast. Her sincerity and earnestness and sense of wonder at the human world came through strongly and consistently. Her rendition of “Part of Your World” was moving and made even more enjoyable by the clear voice of the 8-year-old girl sitting beside me, singing every word right with her. Randal Keith as King Triton has a strong commanding voice—both in his speaking and singing—and he brought a wide range of emotions as the Sea King dealing with seven very different and sometimes difficult daughters. Ariel’s six sisters were a fun part of the show because of the vast differences in voices and characters among the sisters. Their interactions and bickering felt very natural. I also loved the gliding movements of the sisters and Ursula, the Sea Witch (nastily played by Heidi Anderson). The appearance of swimming and gliding across the stage was very effective, and it was easy to forget that the actors were performing outdoors in the desert.
The young Payton Kemp was a pleasant surprise in the performance. Kemp’s strong, clear voice was the highlight of the show and made me long for a larger singing role for Flounder. As he joined the song “She’s in Love” with Ariel’s sisters, his wonderful singing unexpectedly took the lead and filled the space. Sebastian, played by Lawrence Cummings, came on too strong for my taste. His accent was part Jamaican, part French, and part I’m-not-sure-what. Moreover, the accent wasn’t consistent and became increasingly irritating as the show progressed. Cummings has a strong voice with an amazing range, but his flamboyant portrayal and high vocal riffs made me wonder if he thought this was a production of Sebastian the Crab and Friends. Cummings also suffered during the scene in which Sebastian tries to escape being part of the dinner and Ariel tries to help him. The movement for this scene was messy and unorganized, which made it difficult to determine who was trying to do what to whom.
The lighting scheme, for the most part, seemed to be fixed in two general areas. Lights were bright for most of the show and were of course dimmed for the scenes involving Ursula, providing a sinister feel to her character. A more pronounced difference between the human scenes in bright daylight and the underwater scenes with a more subdued, filtered light would have enhanced the mood a little more. The lighting in “Kiss the Girl” was great, though, and helped with the feeling of the scene occurring in a more secluded, romantic spot.
Despite my minor misgivings, Tuacahn’s production of The Little Mermaid succeeded in bringing a fresh look to a well-known story, and, despite the lateness of the evening, kept me awake and entertained and wishing to be part of this world for a little longer.