The Little Mermaid

Orange, Mills, Weaver, Kulp. Photo credit Jason Needle/TETHOS.

Following the success of its animated feature in 1989, the Disney megacorp spawned a series of productions in both a live-action film and a Broadway theatrical release that is now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts with some adjustments and tweaking along the way. Opening on Broadway in 2008, playing for 685 performances, it has made its way both nationally and internationally in such diverse venues as Canada, Israel and Russia.

Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s enchanting fairy tale, it has been considerably jazzed up for modern audiences. It retains the romantic storyline of a young mermaid who wishes to be human meeting a handsome prince, but a few elaborate production numbers give it a wider audience appeal.

In the best Disney tradition, Ariel (Leianna Weaver) has a lovely voice and just the right amount of spunk and charm to appeal as the conflicted princess. Her handsome prince Eric (Coleman Cummings) also has the necessary boyish charisma to match her as they deliver some pretty good life lessons about acceptance, courage, and following your dreams.

To flesh out the play and give it a dash of humor, Dana Orange plays the beleaguered crab Sebastian with just the right amount of frustration and tenderness toward Ariel, as King Triton (a stalwart Trent Mills) has charged him with her safety. His “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are highlights in Acts 1 and 2. 

As the larger-than-life evil sea witch Ursula, Regina LeVert is grand and compelling with her dramatic vocal deliveries in “Poor Unfortunate Soul” and “Daddy’s Little Angel.” Flotsam (Mitchell Lam Tau) and Jetsam (Christopher Diem) do yeoman work as sinister eels complete with the requisite electricity to enhance Ursula’s magnificent tentacles as she and they undulate wickedly.

In a tour-de-force comedic number, “Les Poissons,” the always superb Jeff Skowron elevates what might simply be slapstick humor into a highlight of the production as the effusive French chef Louis. McCoy Rigby wisely include him in many of their shows to great effect. As Grimsby, Kevin Symons is the wise counselor and provides the counter arguments to the young prince’s yearnings for the elusive Ariel.

In smaller but not insignificant roles are the genial seagull, Scuttle (Quintan Craig); Flounder (Kevin Kulp), an adorable angelfish who is devoted to Ariel; some tap-dancing gulls (Daniel Dawson, Kurt Kemper, Edgar Lopez); and a bevy of mersisters (Katie Cruz, Cristyn Dang, Andrea Dobbins, Tayler Mettra, Neema Muteti, Candace J. Washington) who provide the color and flesh out the company both charmingly and enthusiastically.

Musical numbers by the team of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Glenn Slater provide the familiar music of the original animated film but expand the offerings to enhance the added dramatic situations of the show. Music Director/Conductor Brent Crayon is reliably effective leading the orchestra. Choreographed by John MacInnis with Paul Rubin’s flying choreography, the cast soars over the water and under the waves to make believable that which is easier to accomplish with animation.

Directed by Glenn Casale, the show is a perfect outing for those who love Disney, princesses, and clever theatricality. While the prince/princess formula may be wearing a little thin, it hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of audiences to indulge in a little romantic escapism.