Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ASF: Disney's "The Little Mermaid"

Guest Reviewer Layne Holley is a River Region actor and scenic designer.

Audiences of all ages are delighted with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid". Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the musical tells the story of a little mermaid who...Seriously, you know the story, right?

ASF's technical teams are on their game here. Kudos especially to the scenic design and stage crews; these are true treasures in the house of ASF. The set and lighting designs are versatile, easily establishing the mood and sense of place for each scene. They are deceptively simple, but the artisanal and technical prowess are on full display when, for example, Prince Eric's ship makes it's very imposing entrance.

The production features several flying sequences, a few of them stunning, such as Prince Eric's near drowning and rescue by Ariel. His drift toward the bottom of the sea (performed gracefully by Jeff Sears' flying double) and Ariel's rescue (performed with such physicality by Michelle Pruiett's flying double, enhanced by Brenda Van Der Wiel's costuming, that she actually looks like a darting fish) is entrancing.

This production is clear and solid; however, there are pervasive weaknesses that keep it from attaining the height of "true spectacular". -- Van Der Wiel's costumes are creative and intricate, with a perfect palette; but there is a certain lack of undulation in Triton's kingdom, especially within the realm of the wicked sea witch Ursula (Donna Migliaccio), and particularly on the person of Ursula, from whom we expect a material roiling of conniving and opportunism.

Overall, this production's pacing feels a fraction of a beat slow, and there is very little of the physical tension and excitement in most of the actors' voices and bodies that are required for work to read from the stage and to drive engagement, especially among the more mature audience members. Seasoned theatre goers will likely appreciate the energy and commitment in the second act number "Positoovity", featuring a chorus of tap-dancing gulls led by Scuttle (Billy Sharpe).

Unfortunately, there is not much more of this number's "positivity" throughout the production except in the performances from veteran actors Rodney Clark (Grimsby) and Kevin Morrow (King Triton). -- Clark and King are committed and active both vocally and physically in every moment they spend on stage, but it accentuates the slow pace and lack of sizzle in other areas.

Personal mic scan only amplify the stage voice; they cannot create the vibrancy and variety that come from actors who push and project their characters into life and up to the balcony. Sharpe, Clark, and Morrow -- who do not back off just because they are miked -- threaten unintentionally to steal the show.

These criticisms aside, there are several moments in the production that are captivating: the aforementioned rescue sequence and "Positoovity", of course, and also the lovely quartet "If Only" that is perfectly staged and beautifully rendered. It is moments such as these, sprinkled throughout, that will have audiences young an old, with all levels of appreciation, enraptured.