Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: “The Little Mermaid
By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, July 14, 2017
Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Fresh off the dizzying experience of being the biggest winner at this year’s AACTFest, a national competition of community theaters — winning eight top awards for “The Addams Family” — Tacoma Musical Playhouse presents a sweet and romantic musical for the entire family, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” This is not a children’s play, it is theater for grown-ups with adult actors, but it most definitely appeals to children. There were many in the audience opening night, mostly little girls wearing Ariel’s crown (for sale in the lobby for $5), and they clearly loved the show, even to the point of chasing bubbles in the aisles.
It is not the most highly polished show TMP has produced. It starts off slow and feels a bit wooden, but becomes lively beginning with the big song-and-dance number “Under the Sea” featuring Isaiah Parker as Sebastian the crab, and gets progressively better from that point forward.
Most scenes take place underwater, which created technical challenges that were unevenly met. Some of the set pieces that are pushed on stage by hand are not up to TMP’s usual excellent standards. The boat that Prince Eric (Colin Briskey) sails and the big rocks on the seashore look like something seen in a school production. But other set pieces, such as Ursula (Nancy Herbert Bach) the sea witch’s lair and a palm tree-shaped coral with fish swimming around it, are marvelous.
John Chenault’s usual excellent lighting lends an aura of magic to these sets. Interestingly, no set designer is listed in the program, so I assume that was a group effort.
To further the illusion of being underwater, many of the characters are flown on wires, which is done admirably, and the mermaids move in waving motions throughout. They do so beautifully.
Based on the popular children’s book by Hans Christian Anderson and the Disney movie of the same name, the story is well known. Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli) falls in love with Prince Eric and longs to become human. She agrees to a wager, giving her voice to the evil undersea witch Ursula in exchange for a spell that makes her human for three days. The horrible catch to the deal is she can’t speak and she must get Price Eric to kiss her before time runs out or the spell will be broken and her soul will be doomed to Ursula’s control forever.
Martinelli is highly expressive as Ariel, in turn loveable, comical, love sick and pensive. She is delightful in the scene where she is learning to walk on human legs. She’s as wobbly as a newborn colt, and she keeps falling down with a precious look of surprise on her face.
Parker is terrific as her helpmate, Sebastian. I loved his mobile face and quick changes of expression, and he sings sweetly.
Briskey has the clearest and strongest singing voice of all the cast, and he plays Prince Eric as dignified and down-to-earth.
Erik Furuheim as Chef Louis provides the funniest passage in the play as he prepares a seafood dinner for Ariel while singing “Les Poissons,” joined by the ensemble with a reprise as he prepares to butcher poor Sebastian and serve him on a platter whereupon a delightful slap-stick chase scene ensues.
Also outstanding is Jake Atwood as the wisecracking seagull, Scuttle. His tap dancing backed by an ensemble of dancing seagulls on the upbeat tune “Positoovity” is wonderful — with feathers a flying.
Johnny Neidlinger is a disappointment as King Triton. His costume and makeup were harsh and unattractive, and his acting was stiff.
Typical of TMP, the large ensemble numbers are the highlight of the show. Director Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography is grand, as is the music by the great Alan Menken. Finally, deserving of especial note is costume designer Jocelyne Fowler and assistant Grace Stone. Their costumes are colorful and inventive; the mermaid’s dresses are lovely, and some off the oddest ones, such as Ursula’s squid costume and the long-tailed, lighted eels Flotsam and Jetson are hilariously creative.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

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