Review by Danny Gaisin
“♫ Darling, it’s better, down where its wetter; take it from me -Under the Sea ♪ “. Words to live by, if you happen to possess gills and fins. Or, if you are a cast member of THEATRE UNLIMITED’s amazingly particularized and perfectly executed adaptation of Disney’s interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. This is one BIG effort that is so professionally implemented as to belie the axiom that community theatres are intrinsically second rate. This undertaking is (as ‘Scuttle’ claims) ‘positoovilly’ a gem of musical entertainment.
Two years in the making with a production team that even included cast, tech crew and directorial personnel. From first look at the costumes and especially Ariel’s grotto property; obviously, no detail was left to chance. The 12-piece orchestra under Kevin Little is faultless from overture to post-curtain reiteration; the stage crew are smooth and non-distracting; and the direction – perfectly focused with no minute detail overlooked. Mary Lynn Merklinger brings all the joy and happiness of the movie to the Meadowvale stage with the addition that only live theatre can imbue. The drops, rolling props and shore line reminiscent of the famous Copenhagen statue all contribute to a sense of the audience using SCUBA equipment to observe the on-stage action.
Naturally, the show revolves around Ariel, the mermaid that wants to become human. Skillfully portraying the young maiden, Meagan MacPherson captures all the ingenuousness of both her natural character, and the metamorphized silent but legged persona. MacPherson possesses a tonally perfect soprano voice with the ability to carry a note without resorting to vibrato. She also can act and dance up a storm (pun intended). Backed up by her six siblings, she’s instinctively the focus of the audience in spite of the other cast members’ more colorful wigs and costumes. There is one standout sister, Jennifer Schwartz (Blue hair, turquoise dress named ‘Aquata’) who has a full-wattage smile which is constantly integral to her façade. Unfortunately, such facial expressions are not projected by all the other water princesses.
The love interest is John Galbraith playing prince Eric and he credibly projects all the angst of royalty that wishes for a normal (seafaring) life. He has a somewhat tender tenor voice which seems perfectly suited to the role and his acting ability appears natural and never theatric. One feels that all the rehearsing together has created a simpatico relationship between the two stars. Naturally, there must be a villain and Gloria Buchert almost steals the play as Ursula, Triton’s wicked sister. Buchart never resorts to overacting or hamminess, even contributing a little empathy to her reading. As for her makeup and costume, this is one appetizing bit of calamari. She, and her sidekicks, a pair of electric eels played by Michael Sumbler & Emma Armstrong also contribute some comedic moments. Sumbler & Armstrong’s portrayals guarantee both surefire roles in any future version of ‘Avenue “Q”!
The comedy relief relies on Ariel’s mentor, a lobster named ‘Sebastian’. Karl Kwiatkowski crab-walks around the stage trying to keep his charge under control, all the while attempting to avoid her father (Triton)’s wrath. He’s a continual hoot and everyone who has suffered under a demanding overseer will emphasize with this poor crustacean. His Jamaican accent is perfectly suited to the big chorus number ‘Under the Sea’ where even the iconic Jimmy Buffett would concede his approval. All that’s needed; a steel drum or two! This show stopper is only equaled by the tap chorus gig performed by the seagulls that opens Act II.
Among the support roles, there is Dylan Daquano’s French Chef who illustrates prepping a seafood meal in ‘Les Poissons”. This writer is sure that any recollection of this scene will probably bring on a modicum of guilt when dining at Red Lobster™.
THE LITTLE MERMAID will be onstage at Meadowvale Theatre on Montevideo Dr. until Jan. 29th. We definitely suggest that is not only a must-see, but a contender for the 2017 O.A.R. Top Ten list. Then, the stage props will travel to Aurora in an example of community theatre sharing.
This writer hopes that when they return, a place will become available for permanently exhibiting ‘Ariel’s Grotto’. The creativity, detail and design is definitively artistic in both thought and execution.