Live theater, when done well, has always had an amazing ability to transport viewers to an alternative time period, or setting, using little aside from a few pieces of furniture, simple costumes, great actors and words.
Many great houses still perform pieces that use minimal props to assist in their storytelling.
But, perhaps one of the things that has helped theater remain a popular source of entertainment and continue to draw in new audiences is their ability to adapt. The increased technology and invention used in live theater helps some stories come to the stage that would have otherwise never been told.
One of these is *Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
Telling a story that takes place mostly underwater creates a unique challenge for both the set designers and the actors.
In the Orpheum’s production of “The Little Mermaid,” both succeeded.
The set incorporated a lot of blues in varying shades. Bubbles created the shoreline when Ariel (Alison Woods) was perched on her rock overlooking Eric’s castle, and dark blue backdrops set the stage for scenes that took place under the sea. Even the lights shined shades of blues.
This was contrasted greatly by bright lights, bold colors and strong walls when Woods was on the surface.
While the set created a feel of being underwater, the actors completed the scene with their “swimming.”
Often, the Mersisters (Kim Arnett, Kristine Bennet, Marjorie Failoni, Melissa Glasgow, Devon Hadsell and Tro Shaw), King Triton (Fred Inkley) or Woods would enter, or exit, suspended by wires that lifted them up and off/on. While suspended in mid-air, each actor moved their body in a fluid wave-like motion to appear as though they were actually swimming.
One of the scenes that best portrayed how the set and actors worked together to create the underwater feel was when Woods “swims” to the surface during a storm in order to help Prince Eric.
To show the depth, different blue backdrops were cycled through as Woods continued her motions suspended in place. Woods appeared to be “swimming” because the changing veils made it look as though she was moving.
While these elements were executed with great skill, the best scene was in the kitchen at Prince Eric’s castle – “Les Poissons.”
As a child I don’t remember being particularly drawn to this musical number. In fact, I think it was rather scary because I loved Sebastian and didn’t want him to get eaten.
But in Friday’s performance, Chef Louis (Jeff Skowron) and Sebastian (Melvin Abston) delighted audiences with their version.
A ridiculous, over-the-top chef costume, paired with hilarious choreography and facial expressions by the two actors gave audiences a taste of physical comedy seen in only a few other places in the show.
The other source was, of course, the villainous Ursula (Jennifer Allen).
Allen’s boisterous voice dripped with irony, sarcasm and hate as she bounded across the stage.
She was the perfect blend of angry and funny. With a strong characterization, and phenomenal voice, her version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” rivaled the iconic Disney film.
*It should be noted that I am referring specifically to the Disney version of the show. In brief research I could not find other “Little Mermaid” stage productions, but I imagine there may have been a few prior to Disney Theatrical’s production.