Presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company at The Strand Theatre
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Book by Doug Wright
Musical Direction by Charles Peltz
November 27-December 6, 2015
Fiddlehead Theatre Company on Facebook
Review by Travis Manni
(Dorchester, MA) Disney musicals are the foundation of almost all happy childhoods, so I was excited to see an extended version of the undersea fantasy that entranced my youthful eyes and ears. But the problem with Disney’s staged version of The Little Mermaid, the same part that left me slightly disappointed after seeing the show, is that it expands on something that is already so perfect in a way that feels forced and unnecessary.
For those who have lived under a shell their whole life, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a loose interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of a mermaid named Ariel who craves to live among humans. In particular, she falls for a man, Prince Eric, who is equally enamored by Ariel’s stunning singing voice. But Ariel is willing to barter away her voice to Ursula, an evil sea witch, to spend time among the two-legged species and romance the prince.
When this show worked, it was cute and reawakened my inner child’s fantasies. This was mostly during the classic songs, “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Kiss the Girl”. But the issue I took with the show itself was its clear capitalization on Disney movies. In its expansion to a full-length musical, there was a lack of charm and the added musical numbers simply were not catchy and created clutter. The one addition to the show that I enjoyed was the backstory provided for Ursula and King Triton, who are much more connected than I had realized.
As for this specific production, Fiddlehead’s show requires a decent amount of suspension of disbelief. From low-quality backdrops to sea creatures with neon bobs, it was apparent that they wanted to distract their target audience—children—at all times. Probably the biggest disappointment was Ursula’s tentacle dress, which had simple, curled edges instead of the tentacle webbing I’d been hoping for. There were also cables attached to Ariel in the majority of her scenes, and during moments when she was singing or interacting with other, non-cabled creatures, I was overly aware of them. It didn’t help that Ariel was apparently the only mermaid that could swim in this way.
Now I know they’re necessary, and seeing Ariel floating away while flipping her tail was quite magical. But just before intermission, as she’s becoming a human, Ariel swims to the surface but does not lose her tail. There was no transformation sequence whatsoever, and I felt a little robbed.
As far as performances, Jesse Lynn Harte brought enough charm as the juvenile but passionate Ariel. She sang through all her songs with the quirky naiveté that makes the character so lovable. Andrew Giordano as her father, King Triton, was stoic but stiff, unable to show any type of genuine affection until the end of the second act when he finally decides to let his youngest daughter be with the man she loves. Jared Troilo as Prince Eric was dashing and determined, perfectly fitting into the niche of Disney princes.
But the real queen of this show is Shana Dirik as the conniving sea witch, Ursula. Her musical numbers were the strongest and she owned the true, sinister nature of the beloved villain. She made me wish I were watching the show from her perspective, something more along the lines of the newer Disney film, Maleficent. Now that would be a show that all ages could enjoy! But as it stands, The Little Mermaid is targeted at young children who are easily manipulated into thinking they’re seeing a quality musical, but doesn’t ever deliver for the more mature audience members.
The Little Mermaid will have performances from November 27-December 6. Tickets can be purchased here and range from $25-45.