REVIEW — Just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Disney’s animated classic “The Little Mermaid,” Tuacahn Amphitheater is kicking off its 2019 Broadway season by bringing the endearing under-the-sea tale to the stage.
Based on the 1989 Disney film and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, both of the same name, the stage version flips between the familiar film songs and those created for the musical adaptation with book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.
Familiar songs such as “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Les Poissons,” undoubtedly provide the biggest crowd pleasing moments, but audiences looking to move beyond the familiar will enjoy “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” and “If Only” as well.
The live orchestra provides a big boost to the songs both new and old, and though they remain unseen in what orchestra members call “the bunker,” the talented musicians are an integral part of the production. Listen for the orchestra to really shine in “Under the Sea” when they get a moment to show off their musical prowess.
Like the songs, the characters in Tuacahn’s production offer a mix of traditional and surprising.
Ariel (played by Emily Grace Tucker) is all the things “The Little Mermaid” should be, with her purple shells and brilliant red hair. Tucker leads the cast with both the strong will and doe-eyed innocence of a young teenager in love.
As it is written in the story, Ariel is the pride and joy of her father, King Triton (Dallyn Vail Bayles), and the best singer of her family. True to the script, Tucker is an impressive singer with a vocal belt that belies her small stature.
Providing an apropos love interest to the young mermaid obsessed with all things human is Prince Eric (Josh Strickland). Strickland is what Disney fantasies are made of: handsome, gentle and a lovely singer.
Fans of the film version will immediately recognize Chef Louis (John Massey), who looks as if he walked right out of the animation and onto the stage. Though Massey’s part is small, his musical exploit into the culinary world of fish in “Les Poissons,” is a stand-out performance.
Less familiar to audiences is the portrayal of watery baddie Ursula (Lindsay Roginski).
Audiences expecting a portly squid-like nemesis to both Ariel and King Triton will be surprised with this season’s version of the soul-stealing sea witch.
In Tuacahn’s production, Ursula is re-imagined as a sort of female underwater Beetlejuice who dances as if she had stolen famed choreographer Bob Fosse’s soul and keeps it in her magical shell.
Flanked by her electric eel partners in crime – Flotsam (Thomas Doelger) and Jetsam (AJ Lockhart) a harmonious bad-boy duo – Roginski’s voice and especially her body language prove to be big enough to fill the stage without the excess. That said, look for a surprise from Ursula and the stage crew near the end of the production that will blow audiences away.
Though each of the leads is strong, the highlight of the show is Ariel’s voice teacher and crustacean cohort, Sebasitan (Wilkie Ferguson III). Ferguson brings the house down in “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” with a chill-inducing (in a good way) voice that has incredible range, all while maintaining a Creole accent.
Rounding out show is a strong ensemble of character actors (Dennis O’Bannion as a tap dancing Scuttle is a favorite), a cast of singers and dancers who play multiple parts with multiple costume changes yet never seem to run low on energy.
One of the most spectacular parts of any Tuacahn show is seeing the imaginations of the production crew come to life in a fully realized production. Director and choreographer Jani Walsh-Weber leads a brilliant team to stage a story set, for the most part, underwater.
Of special note to this production are costume designer Dustin Cross, makeup and hair designer Daniel Koye, lighting designer Nick Van Houten, projection designer Brad Peterson and aerial choreographer Cees De Kok.
Kok creates the illusion of Ariel swimming (among other stage trickery) by hoisting Tucker in the air for a large part of the show. The rigging, coupled with some incredible light and projection designs, works wonders to help audiences imagine a world submerged.
Overall, the production is a delightful fish tale full of nods to the beloved film with enough surprises to keep audiences engaged and awed.
Tuacahn’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” runs on alternating nights with Tuacahn’s other 2019 productions until Oct. 25. Show times will vary throughout the season.
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- What: Tuacahn Amphitheater presents Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
- When: “The Little Mermaid” plays on alternating nights with Tuacahn’s other productions until Oct. 25. Times will vary throughout the season.
- Where: Tuacahn Amphitheater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins, Utah.
- Cost: $32-$94.
- Purchase tickets: Online, by calling the Tuacahn box office at 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300, or in person at the box office.
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