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Theater Review: "Disney’s The Little Mermaid"

Chassey Bennett (Ariel) and David Burnham (Prince Eric).
Photo credit:
Adriana Zuniga Photography

Some people (and creatures) are never happy. Take Ariel, Disney’s little mermaid, for example. The daughter of King Triton, she is supposed to stick to the watery world like her better-behaved sisters. But no, Ariel keeps running away to the human world (where she thinks she belongs), much to her father’s annoyance.

Then there’s Prince Eric, very human but utterly uninterested in being a prince. In fact, he’d rather be a sailor and hang out with the guys.

You probably know what will happen. But even if you do, you’d do well to take a drive up to Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre to see the story played out on the stage.

Surprisingly enough, the main characters aren’t the real stars here. The little mermaid who wants to be human (Chassey Bennett) gets the title -- and Prince Eric (Broadway veteran David Burnham) has by far the best voice -- but the supporting characters get the great lines, songs and costumes in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” playing through Aug. 5.

Steven Glaudini, Moonlight’s artistic director, helms this sprightly, colorful show that features tap-dancing seagulls, a Calypso-inflected crab as “court composer” to King Triton and his watery underworld, and even an aerialist dangling from silks.

But the real star is the witch Ursula, played to evil (and hilarious) perfection by local favorite Randall Hickman in a sparkly black dress, eight glittering tentacles and attitude that won’t quit. (Credit Renetta Lloyd for that getup.)

Ursula is the one who can make Ariel’s dream come true. But, true to the tenets of witchery, it doesn’t come free. Ariel must pay with her voice, and if she doesn’t get Eric to kiss her within three days, Ursula gets to keep it and Ariel will lose her voice forever.

Bennett’s Ariel the mermaid – she of the flame-red hair -- is pretty, lovable and a good and charming actor. Her voice has the volume required, but the quality is a little strident for my taste.

But I could listen all night to Burnham; he has that solid, beautiful voice that makes you want to listen. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome. 

Hickman is a force to be reckoned with under any circumstance, but especially here as the plus-size Ursula who clearly runs the underworld in this watery kingdom. And (s)he can sing.

Cornelius Jones, Jr. is a rollicking kick as Sebastian the red, calypso-accented crab assigned to keep tabs on Ariel. Sebastian can sing and dance – and watch for the “hot crustacean band” on calypso numbers like “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl” – but just can’t keep track of that slippery mermaid. 

Sarah Errington and real-life partner Rae Henderson are a kick as the eels Flotsam and Jetsam, who talk Ariel into asking Ursula for help.

Luke Harvey Jacobs is a hoot as the portly sea gull Scuttle, especially effective in his song “Positoovity,” in which he divulges his secret:

‘Cause all our screws

May be unscrewed

But dig our attitude.

Paul Oakley Stovall is properly commanding as king-of-the-sea Triton, who meets his match in his willful daughter.

Special kudos to the tech crew, who keeps Jonathan Infantes’ watery projections coming. But that’s not to slight Jim Zadai’s lovely sound design or Jean-Yves Tessier’s fine lighting design.

This is one of late composer Alan Menken’s best scores – mostly upbeat toe-tappers with a few ballads and novelty numbers tossed in. My favorite is Chef Louis’ love song/murder ballad “Les Poissons,” describing how he creates cuisine from those lovely “little fishes.” (Chef Louis is wonderfully played and sung by Ryan Dietrich).

The mermaid may be small, but this is a huge show, counting 16 adorable kids and 18 adults in the ensembles alone. Glaudini says it has set a new record for pre-run ticket sales, and that there were 2,000 in the preview audience before the show even opened. Everybody in my audience seemed to love it, myself included. 

The details

“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” plays through Aug. 5, 2017 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive (Brengle Terrace Park), Vista.

July 19-July 30, Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm; Aug. 2-5, Wednesday through Saturday night at 8 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or moonlightstage.com