OREM  —  Millennials who were raised on The Little Mermaid have roundly rejected the animated Ariel saying “I’m sixteen years old, I’m not a child!” Despite this outburst, many of her other points about land loving were right on. There’s something nice about the warm air, stretching your legs and being up on the land. That is even nicer when you’re able to eat snacks and enjoy the the fabulous SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre production of The Little Mermaid. It’s in ideal evening for the whole family and not to be missed this summer. 

With music from Alan Menkin, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and a book by Doug Wright, The Little Mermaid musical adds new songs and deeper character arcs to make the show one that has made it a mainstay for Utah stages in recent years. SCERA’s outdoor production excelled in a number of ways, but its greatest strength was the sound. Chase Elison’s work as sound designer and audio engineer made it a ten star(fish) experience. The songs were beautifully balanced and mixed, and it was never hard to hear the shimmering voices of the cast. Doing a musical outdoors can be a recipe for disaster if the sound isn’t top-shelf, but it was for this show and made it a wonderful experience. 

Elena Shill’s voice rang out most beautifully of all. In a cast of incredibly strong vocalists, Shill was fins over tails the best singer. She had a stellar range and clarity that turned my head each time she reached into her bag of tools for another note up, or an even stronger belt. There was no suspending disbelief that Eric would turn down beautiful rich princesses for the voice she brought, and it was, again, a stunning vocal performance. 

The Little Mermaid plays at SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre through June 22. | PC: Derick Wolsleger

Tannah O’Banion’s performance of Ursula was also excellent. The original performance from Pat Carrol as the sea witch is so iconic that performers tend to either mimic her deliver or lean into other character stereotypes or tropes in this role. O’Banion made each line unique and her own. She brought insight to the character through her vocal inflection that I hadn’t experienced before, and it was part of an overall excellent performance. 

The last truly excellent lead was Shannon Follette as Scuttle. Follette was hilariously engaged and had a great bird waddle even when entering the stage space from off stage. Her vocals were fun and peppy, and she, like Obanion’s Ursula, felt like more of a character than a caricature. Even for someone so wacky, it didn’t feel like it came from a place of imitation and the acting from these three was exceptional. It even carried over to Follete’s meet and greet at the end of the show where she continued to laugh and play with the children she met. 

So much of what made this production surge came from director Chase Ramsey. The actors were passionate and fierce in their objectives. Ocean puns and quips from mersisters were elevated to more than throw away lines, and it seemed like the whole cast bought into the vision that Ramsey brought to the stage. He credits choreographer Janessa Ramsey and production stage manager Danielle Berry as being deeply linked to the show’s success in his director’s note; but no matter where the credit goes, it was clear that this was a cast that bought in hook line and sinker to making moments drive the show forward. 

SCERA shell outdoor theatre ; orem ; little mermaid ; utah county ; 2024

Photo Credit: Derick Wolsleger

I was incredibly impressed with Elizabeth Griffiths’ lighting design as well. She managed to use gadgets and gobos aplenty to make the stage gleam in a variety of ways. The storm sequence was one of my favorite effects as it had movement, color shifts, strobe effects and a host of other tools to draw the audience’s eyes in important ways and add tension to the scene. Kids who had been playing were immediately caught up in the scene where the boat sank because the lights shifted. It was an added challenge to do complex lighting against the setting sun. I also loved the varied use of lights on set pieces to create more stage magic in Kiss the Girl and throughout the show. Overall it was spectacular work. 

The other technical effects were also fintastic. I loved the choice to have Ursula’s sea cave have a large screen on the wall to give the witch something magical and responsive to interact with. The various levels of Chase Ramsey’s scenic design gave the director lots of space to work with and allow for unvoiced moments to stand out. Ariel escaping in the chaos while others were singing to and about her was well done. The four part harmony of act two’s “If Only” gave the actors dynamic space to blend together and stand out when necessary. It was a whale of a success from Zippy Hellewell’s scene shop. The same goes for Kelsey Seaver’s costume design and Christy Norton’s props work. Neither was reinventing the wheel, but there’s something wonderful about delivering beautifully what an audience wants and hopes for in a well known title like this. 

Taking a family to a show is a commitment. It’s time, it’s money, and it’s a fairly late night. Kids (and adults!) will want snacks, and a show that doesn’t snare their focus could feel like more of a chore than a cherished treasure. SCERA’s Little Mermaid is a whole trove of treasured family time. Even little children were thrilled to sing and dance along, meet the cast, and be part of SCERA’s world for an evening. The whole team absolutely krilled it, and there’s no need to trout what a great time this show is. 

The Little Mermaid plays select evenings 8:00 PM, through June 22 at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre (600 South 400 East, OREM). Tickets are $14-20. For more information, visit https://scera.org/events/disneys-the-little-mermaid/

orem; orem city ; orem cares ; care logo ; 2024

This review was supported by a generous grant from the Orem CARE program.