REVIEW: "DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID" — Rose Center Theater
"Poor child. Poor, sweet child."
FEBRUARY 19, 2023 — ROSE CENTER THEATER, as part of its annual RCT Musical Theater Professional Series, is currently running one of the most popular Disney tales ever.
Gliding onto Rose Center’s beautiful stage this past weekend, with movements that might remind you more of a Disney on Ice extravaganza, newcomer April Malina captures the hearts of little girls as the beautiful Ariel in this new glitzed-out production of "The Little Mermaid," based on the successful 1989 Disney film of the same name and classic story by Hans Christian Andersen. The show is directed and musically directed by Tim Nelson with performances scheduled through Sunday, March 5th.
The book, “The Little Mermaid,” is by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. With its catchy songs, its plucky, independent-minded heroine, its irresistibly campy villainess and a happy ending far more uplifting than Hans Christian Andersen’s ethereal original, “Mermaid” single-handedly changed the face of musical entertainment when it debuted.
Having elevated animation to an art form, Disney’s storyline centers around a mermaid with big ambitions who dreams of the world above the sea and finding true love. To do that, she must enlist the aid of Ursula, the evil sea witch, who transforms Ariel’s fishtail into human legs. But — on one condition. If she fails to find love’s first kiss, her soul pays the price. "Poor child. Poor, sweet child."
With an outstanding cast, endless imagination, direction and choreography, wondrous eye-popping sets by the masterful Chris Caputo, seductive costumes by Carole Zelinger, and a color palette that runs the gamut from deep sea to high sky hues — this show is just the latest evidence of why Rose Center Theater rules in the performing arts world.
April Malina’s Ariel, our star, is a spirited lass whose rebellious nature often gets the better of her. She is the youngest daughter of King Triton (played by that blue-bearded Tim Nelson, who rules the deep and also every scene he’s in), ruler of the mer-people, and as such is not only his favorite daughter but his greatest headache. Ariel is passionately curious about all things having to do with the wonderful world up above and goes out of her way to collect human souvenirs (mostly trinkets and pieces of junk tossed by sailors) that she keeps in her secret grotto. It is this curiosity that eventually leads her to cross paths with Eric (an exuberant Ray Tezanos, who sizzled before on this same stage two years ago in “Waiting in the Wings”), a human prince that captures her heart.
Ms. Malina uses her powerful, emotion-filled, breath-taking voice to fine effect as the restless mermaid, with lovely renderings of “The World Above” and “Part of Your World.” And as Prince Eric, who has no desire to become king, and would far prefer to be a sailor, Mr. Tezanos uses his superb crooning, fervent acting, easy grace and good looks to conjure a prince of substance and charm.
Featuring a host of supporting cast, ensemble, and tech crew, who deserves much applause for their faultless spectacle of emotion, fascination, and enchantment, there are a few standouts from this past weekend’s performance I must mention: Sebastian the Crab (played by the inimitable Trevyn), the creole-scolding sidekick to Ariel, in a red suit, a red fedora, and a trademark Caribbean accent.
Somewhat different from the film Ursula (a cross between Mae West, Divine, and Bea Arthur), Lisa Katherine Taylor creates the most fully formed character. She deadpans her cutting remarks with casual aplomb and brings venomous relish to “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” all with several moving interactive tentacles that form an Elizabethan-like skirt. (Although I’m still a bit puzzled how a merman and a squid can be brother and sister.)
And of course, Scuttle (at this performance: Avi Spitzer-Tilchin, alternating with Jillian Matthews), the fast-talking, malapropism-prone sea gull, in a full white feathery-looking costume, who provides riotous comedy relief throughout the show. Cliff Senior is amazing as Grimsby, but then he is always amazing. And the entire audience was round-eyed when Vincent Aniceto took the stage as Chef Louis, a Frenchman with a taste for hacking and boiling “Les Poissons.”
Flotsam (Jillian Matthews this night, alternating with Garrett Brown) and Jetsam (Rylie Herbel on Saturday, alternating with Jessie Reitz) stand out as Ursula’s sly, manipulative, moray-eel henchmen, with magic eyes who speak in unison and finish each other’s sentences. The winsome little guppy Flounder is wonderfully portrayed this night by Brady Barrett (alternating with Oliver Stewart), and is hugely engaging.
What’s not surprising is how overwhelmingly delightful the numbers are. It’s something we’ve come to expect from Disney. The joyous pull-out-all-the-stops calypso-flavored frolic “Under the Sea” and the gloriously romantic “Kiss the Girl” are delicious songs bedazzled with interesting choreography and complete ensemble, and it’s all you can do not to get up and sing with them.
Among the best songs in the show: “Her Voice” gives Ray Tezanos’ lady-killer prince a yearning anthem to match April Malina’s “Part of Your World.” Scuttle leads a fun bunch of dancing seagulls in “Positoovity;” the Mer-sisters, along with Flounder at the end, do an exuberant girl-group riff in “She’s in Love;” and scheming sea witch Ursula, who offers Ariel human transformation in exchange for her voice, vamps about the evil old days before she was banished in “I Want the Good Times Back.”
Aside from some neat transitions early on between above and below sea, the show generally is most persuasive when the gorgeous color palette and delicate lighting strokes take the descriptive lead. And when next we see Prince Eric’s near-drowning scene in the storm right before the break, and Ariel’s underwater transformation from mermaid to human, it engenders a sense of wonderment through the audience hard to duplicate in other shows.
For the performers' movements, choreographers Jennifer Simpson-Matthews and Diane Makas is fantastic. They have the actors wear Heelys wheeled footwear, dubbed "merblades", which endows their wearers the ability to skim hard surfaces, gliding with a near-balletic lightness (a feat much more difficult than it looks when you’re being attacked on all sides by an aggressive ocean). But - We got no troubles…Life is da bubbles Under the Sea!
The music is magnificent and yet, never overpowering. We hear every word of every song. Songs such as “The World Above”, “Part of Your World”, the show-stopping “Under The Sea”, “One Step Closer”, the powerful “If Only” and Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” are all excellent memories that will leave the theater with you.
ROSE CENTER THEATER, CELEBRATING THEIR 15TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR, PRESENTS — DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID; Book by DOUG WRIGHT; Music by ALAN MENKEN; Lyrics by HOWARD ASHMAN & GLENN SLATER; Director/Musical Director TIM NELSON; Choreographers JENNIFER SIMPSON-MATTHEWS & DIANE MAKAS; Costume Designer CAROLE ZELLINGER; Costume Assistant ALYSIA SMITH; Prop Master TRISH MERRILL; Wigs by CLIFF SENIOR; Technical Director/Scenic/Lighting/Projection Design by CHRIS CAPUTO.
WITH: TIM NELSON • APRIL MALINA • RAY TEZANOS • LISA KATHERINE TAYLOR • TREVYN • BRADY BARRETT • OLIVER STEWART • JILLIAN MATTHEWS • AVI SPITZER-TILCHIN • GARRETT BROWN • RYLIE HERBEL • JESSIE REITZ • CLIFF SENIOR • VINCENT ANICETO • KRISTIN HENRY • RAE MARTINEZ • KYLIE MATTHEWS • KACY CROSS • LAUREL BROOKHYSER • AVA MELGOZA • TAYLOR HERBEL • ANGEL DUMAPIAS • CAT VALENTINE • SOFIA ANICETO • BAILEY CURTIS • RANDALL GODDARD • LEA MANO • DARIEN RORICK • SAMANTHA WALKER • BROOKE BELT • MACAILA DORNEY • COLLIN HIGGINS • LANDON MARIANO • AVALON ROSE • LAUREN BELT • MIA GEISE • CHLOE HUBBARD • ADRIENNE MORROW • ALANA RUHE • TAVEN BLANKE • RACHEL GIRADET • MATT KIM • MAYA PUTERBAUGH • NATASHA TEIMAN.
ROSE CENTER THEATER’S “DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID” runs 7:30 PM Evening Showings: February 18, 24, 25, March 3, and 2:00 PM Matinee Showings: February 19, 26, and March 5. The Rose Center Theater offers discounts for large groups of 20+. Please email RoseCTBoxOffice@gmail.com or leave a message at 714-793-1150 ext. 1 Running Time with intermission approximately 2 ½ Hours. Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.rosecentertheater.com/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Jason Niedle