THE LITTLE MERMAID – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater; Book by Doug Wright; Directed by Matthew Dailey, Music Directed by Jerimiah Otto; Choreographed by Kate Vallee. Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through September 10. Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com.
As a high school student in Illinois, my class once took a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. After wandering through the displays of various under the sea life, we stopped at their cafeteria for lunch. Feasting on hamburgers and hot dogs, we couldn’t help but notice that there was no fish or seafood offerings on their menu. We were told it was out of respect for the living aquatic animals in their care. Approaching Candlelight recently, I wondered if the same distinction would be drawn on their themed dinner menu for THE LITTLE MERMAID. I needn’t have worried; no hesitation about eating fish here! There are crab, shrimp, whitefish, calamari and scallops abounding on their fishy menu, along with the usual chicken, beef, and pork dishes. Try the cassoulet – it’s delicious.
There are many things to like about this bright colorful production. It stays true to the animated movie most of the kids in the house had seen dozens of times. This is definitely a kid show and parents are enjoying the reduced prices for kids to bring them to the theatre. Management reported that over 200 child tickets had been sold for the first five performances. Under the sea and castle backdrops adorn the lobby for photo opps. The familiarity of the music and silly seafish are appealing to everyone in the audience. You know what to expect and you are not disappointed.
Susanna Ballenski makes an energetic and delightful Ariel. She has been a favorite since first being seen as Lucy in JEKYLL AND HYDE. Susanna’s voice is suited to the haunting quality needed for Ariel; her joy at finally reaching “up there” was boundless; and her love of her undersea family and friends was touching. I’ve seen various ways of illustrating the metamorphosis from fish tail to legs, but this production team and costumer produced a smooth, seamless, nearly invisible transition. With the help of her fellow dancers, her swimming prowess is gracefully displayed.
To match a talented Ariel, you need an equally talented Prince Eric. After all, he must be worthy of her sacrifice. Jack Wardell is just beginning to make his well-deserved splash (see what I did there!) at Candlelight, but rest assured, you will see more of him in future productions along the front range. He has a loose confident way of moving, a strong baritone, and the looks of a leading man.
Ariel’s fishy friends bring much of the pleasure and humor to the show. Ethan Knowles returns to Candlelight after his spectacular performance as Brother Jeremiah in SOMETHING’S ROTTEN at BDT to create a jaunty jolly Scuttle the Seagull who thinks he knows everything about humans and displays considerable tap-dancing skills with his backup flock. A newcomer to the Candlelight tribe, Jack Olson becomes Flounder who is more of an angelfish than a flat flounder. His schoolboy crush on Ariel is sweet to behold. He proves to be a true friend, however, when he discovers “She’s in Love.” Sebastian the Crab completes Ariel’s triumvirate of friends. In this performance, despite HIS name, Sebastian identifies as a woman – a star turn for another newcomer to Candlelight, Ghandia Johnson. With her Jamaican accent, she leads the entire cast “Under the Sea” and gives chase to Chef Louis during “Les Poissons (the Fish).” She is charged by Ariel’s father to watch over her, but no one counted on the appearance of Ursula.
The dark side of the cast is represented by Kelly Maur, another familiar face at Candlelight. The villainess Ursula works a devious plan to not only steal Ariel’s voice for spite but to also get her power back from her brother, King Triton. Kelly’s voice and performance skills are more than enough to convey the necessary evil to make Ursula intimidating. Unfortunately, she was hindered in her movement by an overpowering costume. For some reason rather than trusting that Kelly could be sufficiently evil on her own two feet, the production team thought bigger was better for Ursula and created a movable platform under her hoop skirt that made her about ten feet tall, a device that allowed her to “melt” like the witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Ursula’s hinch-fish, Flotsam and Jetsom, portrayed by Nathan Petit and Chas Lederer, are efficient and competent as they carry out the deeds demanded by Ursula. As moray eels, they often spoke and moved in unison. However, they too had confusing costumes. Their evil looking eel heads were attached to their hands to create snake-like movement with their arms. It became hard to decide which to watch – their eel heads or the real faces doing the speaking and singing. But this trio gets some of the best songs – “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Daddy’s Little Angel.”
The ensemble triples as the Mersisters to Ariel, the various undersea inhabitants, and the staff of Eric’s castle with great efficiency. Scott Hurst, Jr. brings his considerable presence to King Triton, Ariel’s father. Stephen Turner is an enthusiastic Chef Louis who wields a wicked cleaver.
The versatile set designed by Brian Watson provided the deck of a ship as well as an underwater AND an above the ground castle with very quick turnaround. An especially nice effect was a lighthouse tower with a rotating spotlight for Prince Eric to look out to sea in search of Ariel. The production team always pulls out all the stops for each new production This is no exception.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!