While Ariel (Liv Kurtz) dreams to be part of the human world, Colchester Community Theatre made us part of their under-the-sea world in the group’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
Putting mermaids’ fins and fish on any land stage certainly is a challenge when you lose the magic and abilities that Disney animation allows. But Colchester found a way to work around the seemingly impossible in its own charming way at Bacon Academy on closing day Sunday, Valentine’s Day.
You obviously don’t have water for the sea creatures to swim on or the ship and Scuttle to float on (hmm…new idea, “The Little Mermaid” the musical done in a giant aquarium shark tank). But that’s where suspension of disbelief and creativity come in.
Costumes were a big part of that and the make-up was so detailed and beautiful, which was stunning even if you couldn’t see the intricacies until greeting the cast up close after the show.
I adored the skating fish in “Under the Sea,” probably the strongest number in the entire production, largely because of the colorful and creative costumes. The jellyfish with shiny umbrellas and precious little oysters were other standouts.
Later in the show, I equally loved the tap-dancing seagulls, though they didn’t all have taps and it was sometimes confusing where the sound of their clicking footsteps originated.
When Kurtz plays Ariel the mermaid, she cruises around on skates. Personally, I think if you’re going to use skates, go all out. Sometimes she was walking when she had them on and we need to believe she’s swimming, so I do think the skating could have been weaved into the staging more beyond entrances and exits. It would have been catastrophic to have all the characters skate on stage, especially in the large ensemble scenes that have a lot of children. But I would have liked to see more of the sea-faring main characters, like King Triton (Mike Byrne), to distinguish them from humans more.
It would even have been lovely to see Ariel’s sisters all on skates. However, aesthetically, they stood out with their sparkly and colorful mer-garb and hair colors from pink and purple to blue and white. Flounder (Kassidy Hambrecht) could have used them, as well, and looked more fish-like, but the costume did have the recognizable blue and yellow colors from the cartoon.
The set wasn’t anything ornate, but it was clear the cast and crew put their heart into the pieces that gave the show a child-like quality to it, which is important when it’s a show geared toward a young audience.
While you may hate Ursula (Diane Ozmun) and her eel henchmen Flotsam (Laura Plourde) and Jetsam (Jason Sedgwick), the talents of the actors playing the bad guys were top notch and stood out the most to me in this production.
Ozmun had a stunning operatic voice with a lot of body to it that breathed power into her sinister persona. I would have liked to see her use her arms and movement more to fully utilize her beautiful, flowing octopus dress and emulate the creature she was.
Plourde could have voiced an animated version of the show with the slithering, airy quality she tactfully produced in her spoken lines and songs, fully embodying her character. She and Sedgewick were in sync as a team and they moved loosely like eels swimming. The flashlights in their sleeves also were a nice touch.
Michelle Rocheford Johnston stood out comedically as Skuttle, describing human things, like the Dinglehopper, or fork, to Ariel (it’s used as a brush, obviously).
Kurtz was sweet and innocent as Ariel with a young, clear voice. Sometimes her vocals were inconsistent. In “Part of Your World,” it sounded at times like some of the lyrics were either forgotten or swallowed in her annunciation. When she sang the “I want more” lyric, she lost some breath support on “more,” causing her to have to take a breath in the middle of a held-out note. However, the second half of the song was stronger. I was most impressed when she stood up and sang “ready to stand” and beyond because then she added depth to the song in dynamics, style and emotion.
She gave us an Ariel who isn’t perfect and is still figuring things out, giving the show a coming of innocence feel to it. Kurtz excelled in the parts when Ariel had to interact with Prince Eric (Ian Yue) without her voice because it requires, as Ursula (Diane Ozmun) would say, more body language….and facial expressions and delightful dance as an alternative way to speak.
It was confusing, however, that Ariel has two solo numbers in the play while she is voiceless. While it is theater and it probably represented her inner thoughts, they didn’t necessarily add anything to the story. For instance, when she’s singing about Eric, we would have been able to get the same message without the songs through her facial expressions and demeanor. Those songs, while beautiful, added length to an already long musical.
Yue’s clean tenor tone gave him the princely poise that perhaps didn’t always come through in his goofy, adventurous take on his character, who struggles with whether he really wants to bring a prince. Like the remake of the stage version of “Cinderella,” the princess, Ariel in this case, plays a big role in guiding an otherwise lost prince. The voice of the prince’s savior in “The Little Mermaid” is like the glass slipper in “Cinderella” as the prince searches for the woman with the reoccurring singing voice that captivates him. She’s his instinctual true love.
Although kissing the prince is a vital part of Ariel’s contract with Ursula, Ariel and the prince never share a kiss even at the end. That would have wrapped up the story more nicely, but perhaps it was because of the young cast with a lot of children. Ursula’s motives of taking Ariel’s voice are unclear and she doesn’t appear as a young woman trying to win over Prince Eric like in the movie.
Sebastian (Chelsea Kelle) seemed to have a stronger connection to Ariel than the more passive and quiet Flounder (Kassidy Hambrecht). Kelle took on the challenge of voicing Sebastian with a Jamaican accent, and while it sometimes came in and out of her lines and songs, she did exceptionally well with it. She played a more graceful and professional, yet concerned and compassionate, Sebastian than the neurotic and strict Sebastian we see in the cartoon. She served as our ambassador to the sea, leading the “Under the Sea” number. Her costume could have used some claws to make her more crab-like, but she moved her arms a lot to make up for it and embrace her crustacean character. Another strong scene for her was her comical evasion of Chef Louis (Steve Sabol) while Ariel is the prince’s guest.
Speaking of the cooking scene, the funniest moment in the entire show was when precious children dressed as fish were passed down the conveyer line as Chef Louis struck the counter behind them with strokes of his stage knife, making loud chopping sounds that prompted the children to lie flat and play dead. The moment when one of the fish pleads with the chef not to cook her was so cute. She had the whole audience behind her wanting her to be spared.
There were some challenges with the sound in the production. Microphones occasionally cut out, including Ariel’s, and there was a lot of interference in the sound. Volume levels were sometimes too piercing and inconsistent. Sitting right in front of the tech booth, however, I could hear the crew was aware of the issues and they worked quickly to resolve them.
While the stage version cannot compare to the animated Disney film, I admired the spirit and passion the cast put into the show and the energy needed to make it a show enjoyable for children and adults. And with a cast so large with several children, they gave us a very delightful afternoon of entertainment that literally lit up the audience, many of whom purchased light-up tritons.
A lovely afternoon under the sea!