I refused to look at any of the reviews of The Little Mermaid from the previous shows so as to not taint my experience going in, and personally I had high expectations going into this show. When Disney first came to Broadway, it was with sort of sneer from the general public and theater buffs whether the House of Mouse could put on a “real” Broadway production. Following the sucesses of The Lion King and the recently closed (after a fantastic run) Beauty and the Beast, those questions began to fade. However, after the disaster that was the production of Tarzan, and the less than stellar reviews for Mary Poppins, those questions have again begun to creep back. So, with expectations on one side and questions about Disney’s ability to put forth a quality production on the other, The Little Mermaid has a lot to answer for in the minds of critics and patrons alike. Can The Little Mermaid turn things back around and prove that Disney is capable of a great theater experience, or are they looking to turn a quick buck with a second rate, theme park like quality production?
Unfortunately, if you had preconceived notions on this going in, there was very little in this production to change your opinion. For those with kids, and the touristy (is too a word) types, the show was enjoyed. Of course, for those people, they were satisfied hearing the numbers that you expected to hear going in, such as Part of Your World, Poor Unfortunate Souls and Under the Sea. For the most part the cast was admirable, Sierra Boggess proved quite good as Ariel, and simiarly other members were at the very least acceptable in their roles with a few glaring exceptions, but even in those cases, I am not sure whether I can blame the actors in the roles, or the “vision” of director.
In short (what do you mean “too late”), I was disappointed with The Little Mermaid. It wasn’t “Quick Close” awful (like the recent Broadway bombs Lestat or Lennon), as the main numbers are already known hits, and tourists will help keep it afloat (pun somewhat intended) for some time, but the show is missing it’s magic. You do not get completely wrapped up into the show or its characters, and the ability to “lose yourself” in it is noticeably absent. In short, if this was a regional production or small local show, I would say “well done” but instead looking at this as a full scale stage production, I am only left scratching my head asking, “What were they thinking?”
So, where did it go so wrong? At first blush, I thought to myself that something did not quite add up when looking at the show. It was as if the whole did not add up to the sum of its parts. If I was happy with the cast, and I thought the singing was good, then why did it seem so off? Then I realized, it had little to do with the people on the stage, and more about those that weren’t.
Choreography. Not the worst part of the show, but the numbers were clearly lacking. Perhaps because of the costumes and adjustments that had to be made for actors that had to spend the show on “Wheelies” (more on that in a minute), but the choreography was lacking. I am not quite sure what the choreographer was going for, but it came off with some sort of tribal feeling that seemed more at home in The Lion King than it did here, and seemed overall uninspired.Â Under the Sea, which should have been the livliest and most fun number in the show comes off as a chaotic mess more reminiscent of Three Ring Circus.
Sets. What sets? It seemed like the show was pushed into the realm of “interpretive” where the audience was expected to accept an awful lot of abstract pieces and make the set in their minds. It fails miserably. The ship appears to be hanging in mid air rather than floating in the “water” of the set. There was little to no backdrops to anything. The one standard piece at the back of the stage flipped and turned into, (theoretically) the moon, the sun, and what is that a spaceship? Oh, no I guess it is supposed to be chandelier in the dining room and the ball room. Overall, it wound up looking more like something I would hang up in my windows for Christmas.Â Other large, unidentifiable pieces pop on and off at times, providing to fill the stage, though you never quite really have any clue what they actually are supposed to be or represent.
Directing. The characters I was least satisfied with in the play were Sebastian (Tituss Burgess), Ursula (Sherie Rene Scott) and her sidekicks Flotsam (Tyler Maynard) and Jetsam (Derrick Baskin).Â Initially I was going to lay at the feet of the actors themselves, but as the show went on, and the things I found wrong mounted, I can only assume these “interpretations” of the characters that I was so disappointed in, was the work of the director.Â In the case of Sebastian, as the show went along, Burgess’ presence seemed to get stronger and was not nearly as dragging on the show as he was in the first act.Â NowÂ I should point out in fairness that TheWife did not share my disdain for Ursula and her cronies, she thought they were fine.Â I on the other hand was so annoyed by their style, their presence on the stage immediately jerked me out of the moment, and instead of making me feel like I was watching the show, I was instead watching some sort of cartoonish Saturday Night Live version.Â Picture Ursula played by Phyliss Diller, cackly laugh and all, and you have this version of Ursula.Â Flotsam, if you can imagine him played by Martin Short with the silly faces and all, you have Maynard’s character down, and Jetsam was similar.Â If that is what the director had in mind building these characters, then the actors did a superb job of building that vision, it just wasn’t The Little Mermaid.
Script and Music.Â OK, so you need to alter the show because obviously you can not pull off on stage things that you can in an animated movie, and for a musical Broadway production you need a bit more than the original show had, so you need to add some numbers.Â I understand and appreciate that.Â But both were poor.Â If you didn’t know the show or story before going in, this did not stand up on its own.Â The story was too fractured to have a clean an understandable time line, or even to say the full plot was completely conveyed.Â This may have been partly due to the fact that in their effort to stuff the music in they simply didn’t leave enough time for the rest of the writing.Â I don’t know. Â I just know it didn’t work.Â And while we are on the music, I would love to know who’s decision it was to give so much time to Scuttle.Â Way too much. Scuttle is a funny character in his bit appearances, but not to give multiple numbers in the show.Â He is supposed to be a funny bit part (like the chef), but they gave him way too much time, without the benefit of advancing the story.Â The opening number of Fathoms Below, expanded from its short form in the Movie to a full blown number on the ship (opening the show) was a real yawner both musically and visually.Â Â I was ready after Beauty and The Beast to buy the Soundtrack to this show as soon as I got in the door.Â Fortunately (for me), this being only the 8th performance (due to the stagehand strike in New York), they have not actually made the CD yet, and were only taking pre-orders for it, which I opted against getting.Â And needless to say, by the time the show was done, I was happy, I hadn’t plunked down the money for this.
In the end, I all I can say it, if you have lots of money and time to waste, and a child to bring with you (that can appreciate the fact that it is The Little Mermaid, and not care about things such as an actual storyline, and will cheer accordingly) then by all means go.Â If you are expecting a worthwhile theater experience however, then The Little Mermaid will most likely leave you disappointed.