HERRIMAN — We all know the Disney version of The Little Mermaid. A young girl finds unhappiness in her sheltered life below the seas, wishing to know more about the humans that live above. Her father expressly forbids any contact with humans, which only prompts the teenaged Ariel to seek the humans out more. When she helps the handsome Prince Eric escape a watery grave, Ariel decides to enlist the help of the crafty sea-witch Ursula to exchange her fins for legs, and strikes a bargain: get Eric to kiss her within three days, or lose her soul. The only catch? Ariel must pay the price of her beautiful voice, and win Eric’s love without any words. The musical version of this tale throws in some nuances that helped the story fill in some gaps, and I appreciated the familial backstory between Ursula and Triton in Doug Wright‘s script. Additional songs (with new lyrics by Glenn Slater) expanded Alan Menken and Howard Ashman‘s original score, and really helped to flesh out an already vibrant world.
I was initially impressed by the hospitality of the staff at Herriman Arts Council. Everyone was extremely helpful and offered smiles in abundance, from ticketing to concessions. It was a nice way to set the tone for a vibrant, upbeat production. The open air pavilion was pleasant, and Disney music was played as I filed into my seats. Overall, a great precursor to the actual musical. The addition of a live orchestra really made this production special. I’ve never been a fan of recording tracks, and Herriman’s orchestra (conducted by Meagan Thorup) seamlessly accompanied the performance.
The use of the space helped to create a brilliantine under-sea scape, bright colors and sparkling textures reflecting something akin to a tropical bonanza. Incorporation of a flight rigging system into the show really helped to sell the under-the-sea illusion; the operators and actors worked in harmony to create fluid, ocean-like movements to great effect. Director Stephen Kerr managed to keep energy up during the scene transitions, and kept pacing at a good flow. This show never dragged, and I was invested in the spectacle throughout.
One of the greatest successes of Herriman Art’s The Little Mermaid was in the costuming. Emily Berbert and her team took on the challenge of encapsulating an entire ocean of species and transformed their actors into a menagerie of fish. Bright colors, patterns, and textures played to the metamorphosis of the cast, and brought the world of The Little Mermaid to life. Combined with Shelby Wells’s makeup design, the glittery world of mermaids was truly a spectacle to behold. I haven’t seen many community theaters rise to this level of production value, and I was incredibly impressed by the total technical aspect of this performance. Kudos to Herriman Arts Council for pulling off a complicated spectacle!
Strength in this performance came from the actors too. Emily Wells as Ariel brought a wonderful sense of naivety and quirkiness to her role, as charming as she was silly. It was refreshing to see an interpretation of Ariel that didn’t take herself too seriously, and Wells remembered that Ariel is indeed a 16-year-old girl. However, for all her playfulness, Wells managed to show depth and conviction in her portrayal as well. I saw the strength of a woman trying to find her place between two worlds. Moreover, Wells’s voice was absolutely gorgeous, and the clarity of her belt was something I’d listen to again and again. Camille Cook also stood out to me because the very soulful, sultriness of her voice played well into the role of Ursula. She’s the villainess you love to hate, so perfectly evil but so compelling in her stage time, that I wish Ursula played greater part in this musical. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was an exceptional moment for her, and stage chemistry with Flotsam (played by Brooklyn Allison) and Jetsam (played by Tevan McPeak) sold the wickedness of their Faustian moment.
Also of note was Barton Sloan as Sebastian, playing the charm and fuss of the little crab with delightful ease. He was a pleasure every moment he was on stage, as was Bryton Myler as Flounder. Myler may be young, but his energy and comfort on the stage made him a formidable force. His interpretation of Flounder was perfectly sweet, and his interactions with Ariel were positively darling.
Overall, this production easily surpassed my expectations and made for a delightful evening of theater. Herriman Arts Council rose to the challenge of producing a technical-intensive play, and created a wonderful show. Stellar vocals and a visual display to match made this a musical I’d want to watch again. Tickets are highly affordable, and the show’s content makes it available to viewers of all ages. The cast also posed with children for pictures afterwards, and many of the kids in the audience were excited for a chance to meet with the stars of the show. Bring a camera, and check it out, before this exquisite piece is over.