By Manning Harris
The Broadway in Atlanta series is presenting “The Little Mermaid” at the Fox Theatre, running though Jan. 15. Disney’s animated film version appeared in 1989, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale; there was a Broadway run starting in January of 2008. Then a modified version with a new book and direction by Glenn Casale was developed in 2012 for Disney Theatricals.
It is this streamlined, beautifully produced and performed version which I saw at the Fox, and I confess it was my first experience with “The Little Mermaid” in any form. I was charmed and delighted; I suppose I had thought “Mermaid” was a show mainly for children, but I was taken aback by the wit, wisdom, comedy, color and just plain dazzlement of this production.
You may know the basics: Ariel, mermaid princess (Diana Huey) is dissatisfied with her underwater life in the kingdom of Atlantica. Her father, King Triton (Broadway’s Steve Blanchard) cannot understand her discontent. But Ariel asks a startling question: What if home is a place you have to discover and not just where you were born?
You see, contact between “merpeople” and humans is forbidden, and Ariel has swum to the surface of the sea and liked what she saw—especially a certain Prince Eric (Matthew Kacergis), whom she rescued from drowning—but not before he heard her beautiful voice. It’s as if they have dreamed each other into existence, but they are real (yes, they are).
Meanwhile, Sebastian (Melvin Abston), a crab who serves as Triton’s adviser (and a bodyguard for Ariel), and Ariel’s best friend Flounder (Connor Russell) try to convince Ariel that life as the young princess of Atlantica is a sweet deal (even with her jealous sisters) and forbidding, scheming aunt Ursula, a squid, (Jennifer Allen, in a brilliant comic performance) lurking about.
I can’t tell you much more (it’s too much fun to discover), except to say that Ariel, who really wishes to be human, and Prince Eric, who is mightily smitten when he sees her again (under circumstances I shall not reveal) are almost mystically drawn to each other. Oh yes, it’s time for him to choose a wife.
What I can tell you is that this production is visually gorgeous and great fun as well. The choice to have the sea creatures flying, as they simulate swimming underwater, is brilliant. Look out, Peter Pan. The flying sequences are choreographed by Paul Rubin. Oh yes, the orchestra sounds lovely; and the entire show is perfectly miked for the vast Fox Theatre.
I must mention that we Atlantans are totally thrilled by the performance of homegrown (Marietta) actor/singer Matthew Kacergis. Longtime readers of these pages may remember we wrote some years ago about his remarkable voice and theatrical potential. I’m delighted to tell you that his voice is more glorious than ever, an instrument of beauty, subtlety, and power. And his acting has an ease, warmth, and assurance that makes him a prince for any kingdom.
I hasten to mention that Ms. Huey’s Ariel is completely charming, and she, too, possesses a beautiful voice (that charms Prince Eric). In fact, this is a company of first class professionals; every person I’ve mentioned turns in a polished, irresistible performance. I wish I could name more.
This is a huge show! I wish it ran longer in Atlanta, but I don’t set the schedules. To give credit: Alan Menken, music; Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater, lyrics; Doug Wright, book.
“The Little Mermaid” comes as complete, joyous surprise to me; whether you’ve seen it or not, you won’t be disappointed.
For tickets and information, visit Foxtheatre.org.