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REVIEW - "The Little Mermaid," Broadway In The Park (Chance Theatre)

Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts, in cooperation with Chance Theater, currently is presenting the Disney classic, "The Little Mermaid," August 7th-11th at Peppertree Park in Old Town Tustin. For the 4th year in a row, the Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts (TACFA) has partnered with the Chance Theatre to produce a Broadway musical under the stars at Peppertree Park in Tustin.

So, if Disney musicals are your thing, this one is an ocean of fun and will definitely satisfy. Silly, sassy and schmaltzy, “The Little Mermaid” is a Timeless Disney Darling - exemplifying the treasured stories and adventures we have come to expect from Disney, swishing us away into a watery world of shimmering, eye-popping confection in the warm, August night air with uncommon flair.

With music by Alan Menken (“Newsies,” “Little Shop of Horrors”) and lyrics by the late, great Howard Ashman, along with a book by Doug Wright, and loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, this imminently hummable tune-fest with enchanting characters and a beguilingly lush score has become a staple on local production stages everywhere.

“The Little Mermaid,” for those of you recently arrived on the planet, is the beloved story of the mermaid Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, who dreams of what life is like above the sea. Ariel longs to be a real human, but never more so than when she rescues the shipwrecked Prince Eric while swimming in forbidden waters. Meanwhile, the evil sea witch Ursula, Ariel’s archnemesis aunt who was banished from the palace, wants to overthrow the throne and devises a plan.

She’s willing to strike a trade – Ariel will be turned into a human for three days, during which she has to win the kiss of true love from Eric. If she does, she will be human permanently; if not, her soul will belong to Ursula. In exchange, Ariel must give up her voice, which will stay in Ursula's magic nautilus shell ("Poor Unfortunate Souls"). Ariel goes for the deal, meets the Prince, but things get a bit complicated on the path to happily ever after…although the plucky, headstrong princess of the deep won’t be down for very long.

Director Matthew McCray deftly kept the action swirling with a never-ending rainbow of color, firmly anchoring the atmosphere between land and sea. Recipient of a 2013 SAGE Award as well as a 2014 LA Drama Critics Circle Award, McCray has produced over 18 seasons of theatre throughout southern California and has himself been seen on episodes of TV shows such as Parenthood, Will & Grace and Boston Legal.

Ariel’s undersea world glowed in wispy seafoam and shiny aqua costumes throughout the two acts, charmed also by an ebullient ensemble who delighted both adults and wee fans alike. Watery effects were accomplished with various methods. Under the ocean, neon-splashed ensemble members visualized schools of exotic fish, crustaceans and jellyfish, sparkling and waving in motion. And key actors also wore Heelys wheeled footwear for aerial effects and flying harnesses to create the illusion of being underwater. As a result, those smiles on a summer night were easily earned, as the crackerjack creative team capitalized on Disney’s sure-fire formula onstage. Their innovative flourishes and creative efforts refreshed this classic into a dazzling spectacle, brimming with heart and humor.

A luminous Emily Abeles personifies free-spirited Ariel with an effervescent likability and sweet voice, bedazzling the overflowing crowd with dreamy favorites, including “The World Above,” the velvety “Part of Your World,” and Ariel’s Lament “If Only.” Some of Emily’s credits include “A Chorus Line,” (a Chance Theater production, which resulted in an Ovation Award Nomination), “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Parade,” “American Idiot,” and “Fairy Hoax,” an OC Premiere.

However, David Šášik doesn’t phone in the love story. David makes a dashing Prince Eric indeed, handling vocals and movements impeccably, and exuding charisma and emotion on stage effortlessly. The chemistry was soon evident and the sparks flew when Ms. Abeles and Šášik was together. Quickly creating a fanbase throughout Orange County years ago, some of his most recent roles have been in “American Idiot,” “Hairspray,” “All Shook Up," and “Dogfight,” (also at the Chance). His strong Stacee Jaxx in “Rock of Ages” and amiable Princeton in UCI’s “Avenue Q" the previous year was quite memorable!

A purring Megan Cherry fumed and snarled with glee as the cunning uber-villain. The versatile actress, who has made her mark in the national tour of “Around The World in 80 Days,” as well as the European tour of “West Side Story,” has also been seen in “Beauty and the Beast,” “My Fair Lady,” “Fiddler On The Roof,” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Stage Door Repertory). Vocally vibrant in her delivery, Ms. Cherry tore into a fierce “Poor Unfortunate Souls” last evening with scene-stealing panache. Her henchmen, Rich Go-2 and Andrew Diego nimbly move alongside her as evil minions Flotsam and Jetsam.

Charles McCoy is also animated as the exasperated, steamed crab Sebastian who speaks in a vernacular, dialectal form of Jamaican Creole, and was spectacular in his singing and dialogue. Tyler Marshall was altogether beyond perfect in his role as Scuttle, acting as comedy relief in places with what appeared to be unscripted improv, but a totally brilliant, funny performance. Tyler touts an impressive resume of work, including much from the UCI Arts Drama Department, along with Off-Broadway credits and Regional credits (“Annie,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Brad Knows Nothing,” “Excuse Me: A Song Cycle”).

Other standouts included King Triton’s imposing, boom-voiced Alex Britton (formerly an artist with Opera Pacific), Glenn Koppel as an authentic Grimsby, adorable Rebeka Hoblik as Flounder (a sophomore already in her third production with Chance Theater), and crowd pleaser Raymond Zachary as Chef Louis, who played the part to the hilt in an hilarious array of scenes and really shone in the fast-paced farcical “Les Poissons.” Also returning to The Chance is Garret Engle (Pilot/Ensemble), currently a BFA in MT at Emerson College.

In their glistening bling-embellished outfits, the spirited and catty Mersisters showcased another stunning facet of Christina M. Perez’s costume designs, iridescent shades of blue, green and purple for mer-costuming, and using ingenious designs and a broad palette for the entire cast.

Choreographer Chelsea Baldree, also a New York actor, synchronized every beat with precise movement and accentuated the beauty on the stage with perfect rythym and sequence. Music Director and Conductor Bill Strongin kept the tempo bright and brisk, while highlighting the sumptuous Menken balladry. Using the conventional score, the chamber orchestra of nine filled the air with familiar classics and sounded more like a full symphony at times. With its contagious calypso beat, the centerpiece number, the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea,” is a sight to behold.

Compliments to the entire technical team, along with scenery designers and sound/lighting techies. Pros all!

For ticket information please go to General admission is $20.00 and children 4 and under are free. Reserved seats/tables are also available.

“As the sun sets and the night skies darken, sit back and enjoy the fabulous performance of Disney’s The Little Mermaid under the sea of stars.” – Kim DeBenedetto, President TACFA

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer


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