Posted Wednesday, February 19, 2014 | © Photo courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals
There was a louder-than-normal buzz outside the Music Hall on Tuesday night after patrons had jumped to their feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation for the sensational, talent-packed cast of Dallas Summer Musicals' opening-night performance of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Audiences flipped "head over tails" for the show's stunningly realistic swimming and flying effects, splashy new costumes, catchy showtunes, and revitalized script (by Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning writer Doug Wright) based on the beloved Hans Christian Anderson story about a beautiful young mermaid who longs to live in the fresh air and sunshine above the surface.
According to special pre-show remarks by DSM President Michael Jenkins, Disney selected this North Texas venue for the new "visionary, updated production" with an entirely fresh (and more deeply emotional) interpretation directed by Glenn Casale who describes, "It's about a girl who feels different than her sisters and wants something different, and it's really typical today. So there's bullying in it; there's prejudice in it. It's more adult that way because they hate the people on the land and they don't understand them, like Romeo and Juliet."
The watery illusion of an exciting aquatic environment teeming with life, both near the sea as well as under it, is created through the use of refraction-style colored lighting which fluidly washes across a variety of frequently-changing backdrops (scenic design by Kenneth Foy and lighting design by Charlie Morrison) and a reoccurring line of 'bubbles' which clearly indicates the separation between worlds. Gracefully-flowing layered green and jewel-toned skirts are cleverly manipulated to give characters a swaying, water-waved appearance (costume coordination and design by Amy Clark and Mark Koss); and the show's strategic piece de r'sistance is found in a dazzling series of aerial flying sequences used throughout the program to meticulously simulate undulating swimming patterns as well as soaring flight across the sky (choreographed by Broadway's "The Fly Guy" Paul Rubin, who actually swam with dolphins for research and is well-known for his work in Peter Pan, Wicked, and more).
A fourteen-piece live orchestra dives right in with a Calypso overture tease of familiar songs from the 1989 animated film before an outstanding, spot-on cast sails onto the stage with impressively cohesive star power. Although Prince Eric (Broadway actor/singer Eric Kunze) would rather be a sailor than a prince, it's the job of his guardian Grimsby (nationally-touring actor Ron Wisniski) to make sure that the teenaged heir is fit to rule the kingdom and doesn't end up an "errant roustabout." Meanwhile, fathoms below, the distinguished court-composer career is at stake for Caribbean-accented red crab Sebastian (Alan Mingo, Jr., an original Broadway cast member of The Little Mermaid whom Dallas audiences might remember as Donkey in Shrek the Musical) as a choir of six mersisters announces the debut of their youngest sibling, Sebastian's star pupil, Ariel (the beautifully-voiced Chelsea Morgan Stock, also Ariel on Broadway) who is absentmindedly roaming about (la Maria in The Sound of Music) dangerously near the water's surface collecting a new dinglehopper. Despite the forbiddance of contact with the human "barbarians" decreed by her trident-wielding father King Triton (commanding Broadway actor Steve Blanchard), Ariel saves Eric from drowning after he's thrown overboard in a sudden storm and thereby becomes instantly smitten. The two actors provide all the magic you might expect from a Disney prince and princess.
Opposition, however, also comes in the form of King Triton's "ugly as a slug" wicked sister Ursula the Sea Witch (the exceptionally captivating, direct-from-Broadway actress Liz McCartney who also portrayed Madame Morrible in the first national tour of Wicked). She enlists the help of her sea snake minions Flotsam (Scott Leiendecker) and Jetsam (Sean Patrick Doyle) who slither onto the scene atop roller shoes and draped in intermittently flashing green lights to assist in luring Ariel into a devilish three-day deal of trading her voice for legs. Once on land, Ariel adapts with the help of her somewhat-secretly-admiring love-struck sidekick Flounder (Shawn Platzker), who surfs his way around on a customized waveboard, and the often-erroneously-speaking seagull Scuttle (Broadway actor Matt Allen) who is one of several characters to repeatedly 'fly' in and out of view. In the castle, the hefty French Chef Louis (Broadway actor Timothy Shew) with ooooverly puffy knickers and tall white toque provides much giggle-inducing slapstick comic relief.
The musical score (by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and his long-time collaborator the late Howard Ashman along with additional songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater) is as compellingly delightful as remembered and expected; and particularly spectacular numbers include "Part of Your World" powerfully sung by Chelsea Morgan Stock, the new and super-dancy "She's in Love" performed by Shawn Platzker with the ensemble of mersisters, Scuttle's encouraging "Positoovity" by Matt Allen, and a deliciously evil rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" by Liz McCartney. For Alan Mingo Jr., his gently soothing "Kiss the Girl" was only topped by his performance in the amped-up version of "Under the Sea" which included a school of wildly vibrant dancing fish donned in Las Vegas-style feathery headdresses along with Lion King-esque fish puppets and huge bobbing jellyfish.
While this enchanting show is definitely ideal for children (recommended by DSM for ages 6 and up), it is, by no means, merely a show for children. So wiggle your way on over to Fair Park to discover this treasure of a production. The Little Mermaid runs at Dallas Summer Musicals through Sunday, March 2, 2014 (with a length of approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission). Tickets range from $25.00 - $90.00, booster chair cushions are available for a nominal charge with ID, general parking is complimentary, and valet service is provided for $15.00. For more information, see performance details below, get additional general information about Dallas Summer Musicals, or visit the Dallas Summer Musicals website to Get Tickets for this or other upcoming shows.