What happens when you house hundreds of little ones in a theater full of simulated bubbles, brightly colored Disney characters and catchy music to bop to? You get ecstatic, wide-eyed, and chatty children whose cuteness cannot be contained for at least two plus hours. The Little Mermaid swam into everyone’s heart in the original screenplay in 1989 and now the Broadway play is doing the same with a tour across the country.
There are flowing mermaids, overseeing crabs, silly seagulls, and a plethora of fish that invade the waters at Belk Theater. The age old tale was created by famed Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen and was first published in 1837 (later adapted by Disney into a film). Girl sees boy, girl rescues unconscious boy, then flees. They both set out to find who they think is their true love inspite of many cultural differences. Almost two centuries later, the story continues to attract those young and old. Though I expected to see plenty of children at the performance, there were a number of childless adults enjoying it just the same. Then there was an adult woman with her adult twin daughters who all beamed with excitement. I bumped into the set of twins who professed their love of the story, citing it as the first movie they saw in a movie theater. They will celebrate their 30th birthday next month and considered the play an early birthday present.
Diana Huey plays the role of main character Ariel, the youngest of King Triton’s (Steve Blanchard) seven daughters. She’s hopeful, impressionable, and curious. She also has a voice that others long for. Huey is petite compared to her cast mates, but she is oh so passionate about the role she refers to as a ‘childhood dream’. And what little girl doesn’t dream of becoming a princess when she grows older? Blanchard as King Triton is powerful. He rules with a magical trident and a stern demeanor. However, my five year old did ask why he had on a dress (his mermaid tail), which seemed to soften him a bit. Blanchard’s King Triton didn’t allow that to be a deterrent from his royal duties of ruling the kingdom and showing strength during difficult times.
Melvin Abston is the protective Jamaican crab Sebastian who attempts to keep Ariel under a watchful eye. At times he falls short, but Abston strongly delivers. He shines in everyone’s favorite tune, ‘Under the Sea’, with the help of a myriad of floating sea creatures. It was hard to ignore the children’s oohs and ahhs while neon crustacean’s flitted about. Jellyfish jumped and tentacles softly swept in the air.
The set is one of the most whimsical and eye-catching I’ve seen. Scenic Designer, Kenneth Foy, incorporates deep purple and pink horizons that hover above shades of blue bubbles. Creatures of the ocean were made up of every hue in the rainbow. It’s stimulating and interactive, and no doubt capable of holding any child’s attention. Amy Clark and Mark Koss obviously put loads of thought into the costumes they designed for each character. The electric eels were a nice surprise, with glowing spines, and gliding feet. Along with Ursula (Jennifer Allen), the sea urchin, they delivered the right amount of creepy and evil.
There is a bit of species-ism (much like racism) that permeates both the oceanic kingdom and the human kingdom. The humans seem to be more accepting than their counterparts under the waves. If only this was everyone’s reality. Considering the state of our society today, and the need for conformity, lots can be learned from the storyline if one dives deeper into Princess Ariel’s and King Eric’s plight. Despite their differences and the opinion of their families, they manage to both stay true to their feelings and transform their naysayers in the process.
For more information visit www.blumenthalarts.org.
Image courtesy of Mark and Tracy Photography.