The Little Mermaid
A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.
"Look! It's not a lion! It's not a beast! This time, it's a mermaid!" Gliding onto a Broadway stage with movements more suited to a Disney on Ice extravaganza, newcomer Sierra Boggess -- whose big claim to fame was her smashing performance in "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular" -- captures the hearts of little girls as the beautiful Ariel in this new glitzed-out production of "The Little Mermaid." Problem is, those are the only hearts she captures.
Parents and grandparents will feel like theyï¿½ve paid money to see, not a real Broadway musical, but a stage show that's really a cross between "Small World," and "Adventureland," finding themselves more curious about how the actors make their way across the stage than what they are actually doing on it.
Ariel moves her arms and sequined fins in vapid swimming motions, designed to make us believe she is "under the sea." This fishy choreography, however, is mitigated with the ingenious use of heelys, or "merblades," as the production has renamed those sneakers with built-in wheels, to make her mobile. Fits right in with a Disney ride concept, which unfortunately, is the overwhelming subtext of this show.
Ariel traverses what appears to be lighted Mylar shower curtains simulating waves and water, not unlike the technique used for the shipwreck in the ill-fated "Tarzan." Her colorful, albeit stiff plasticized costume, designed by award-winning designer, Tatiana Noginova, was more entertaining when it was spoofed in "Forbidden Broadway" than it is in this $15,000,000 production.
But Ariel, like Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," is a truly formidable and appealing female character, one that speaks to budding feminists, and the one redeeming quality of the overblown musical. She rebels against a tyrannical father and insists on making her own decisions. Though her destiny is to be a siren, she finds this role too confining and ventures to the surface, defying family and friends -- not to mention gravity -- in a simulation worthy of another ride through scrims and scenery, and saves the tempest-tossed Prince Eric.
To her credit, as taken as she is with him, her goal to live in "The World Above," overrides her romantic desires. These ideas are inspiring for young girls, but the kudos for this wonderful character goes, not to Disney, but to Hans Christian Andersen and the beloved animated film scored by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.
The other actors, unfortunately, are commodities and none has star power, with the obvious exception, of course, of Sherie Rene Scott, who wowed audiences in "Aida" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
Scott is a deliciously evil sea witch in all her tentacled glory, and her rendition of "I Want the Good Times Back" may become a new standard for belters on Broadway. This character is larger than life, and as Scott herself has admitted, sheï¿½s transformed in this role. But her transformation is more a result of being enmeshed in an enormous costume beset with moving parts than a character driven reaction to events onstage.
The clever choreography of the dancers sans legs is also a victim of technology, dwarfed by the specter of the moving set. Dancers are forced to duck and twirl amongst its arms as if running through whirling saucer rides in Disneyland. In the more elaborate production numbers, gimmicks and timing are everything.
As actors wheely about, led by Tituss Burgess in the role of Sebastian the Crab (though he looks more like a lobster), the real star of his show-stopping number, "Under the Sea," is the multi-tiered serpentine contraption upon which the actors writhe. Beautifully constructed star-studded clamshells mechanically open and close revealing actors in every would-be pearl producer.
You get the idea. "The Little Mermaid" is really about fabulous feats of engineering, and a merchandising vehicle for toys, dolls, and eventual theme-park rides. So, if the kids hound you, take them to see the show, take earplugs, and maybe a magazine. Or better yet, put the few hundred dollars you'll spend on tickets towards a trip to Disneyworld and make everyone happy.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
What the press had to say.....
"But in a perverse process of devolution ï¿½The Little Mermaidï¿½ arrives on Broadway stripped of the movieï¿½s generation-crossing appeal. Coherence of plot, endearing quirks of character, even the melodious wit of the original score (supplemented by new, substandard songs by Mr. Menken and the lyricist Glenn Slater) have been swallowed by an unfocused spectacle, more parade than narrative, that achieves the dubious miracle of translating an animated cartoon into something that feels like less than two dimensions"
New York Times
"Kids, especially girls and young women who grew up adoring the movie, will be enchanted by all the bright colors and nonstop motion. But others, including musical-theater lovers, won't find much satisfaction here." & "The production is busy, not exciting; mechanical, not magical."
New York Daily News
"Oddly enough, it's George Tsypin's settings and Tatiana Noginova's costumes - with their breathtaking vulgarity and equally breathtaking confidence - that give this "Little Mermaid" a certain flap to its flippers in a sea of almost calculated mediocrity." & "Underneath all this baroque ornamentation was a tiny, tinny little musical struggling for its life."
New York Post
"For all of its expertise, "The Little Mermaid" is extravagant kids' stuff, even by Disney standards."
"The new Mermaid is ultimately less than the sum of its impressive parts, offering neither the richly imaginative spectacle of The Lion King nor the old-fashioned vitality and charm of Mary Poppins." & "Wright, Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater ... have developed the tale of a young mermaid's longing to live among humans into an endearing, if rather conventional, love story."
"It is even harder to fall in love with the show. In fact, the most amazing part of Disney's latest musical is its amazing shortage of originality - not to mention magic or cross-generational wit." & "Doggedly conventional, well-performed, middling bore of a show." & "Deep-sea living is represented by what looks like shredded plastic shower curtains. The show has a seashell-soap-dish aesthetic, sprinkled with pearlized fixtures from a kitsch '50s bathroom."
"Disney has turned "Mermaid" into the latest of its high-gloss screen-to-stage projects ï¿½ and the result is almost exactly half as clever and touching and tuneful as the film."
New York Sun
"For adults these structures (the sets), sparingly enhanced by projections and limited use of film, certainly make for a lot of elegantly lit plastic onstage. (The set occasionally looks like the ultimate '70s disco.) But for the smaller ticket-holders in the audience - including my companion, a savvy 7-year-old named Rachel - they create a very convincing aquatic landscape." & "It's important to remember that this is a Disney musical, so the accent is on the show's longevity: There are no popping star turns to be missed when the actors move on. Every role can be smoothly filled ad infinitum. The two romantic leads, Boggess and Palmer, are especially bland, though perfectly competent."
Jacques le Sourd
"Under the direction of Francesca Zambello, whose background is in opera, the show is static. Instead of scenes flowing into one another and the story building, you have the sense of watching a series of barely connected sequences, each one designed to present a song. "The Little Mermaid" isn't bad; it's bland. It's done well enough that kids up to age 8 or so might enjoy the color, the music and the elemental mermaid-meets-prince story. But even they might be puzzled by some of the creative decisions." & "The dozen numbers that Menken wrote with lyricist Glenn Slater for the show are, with a couple of exceptions -- especially "I Want the Good Times Back" -- not very notable. The love songs are particularly dreary."
"The Little Mermaid" - tail intact - amiably swims along on good cheer and charm. " & "This musical, buoyed by one of the best Disney film scores and a delightful new leading lady, succeeds as enjoyable family entertainment. And, yes, the sets are big, but then, so is the ocean."
"Disney's uneven procession of theatrical adaptations of its beloved film properties hits a sour note with this charmless rendition of its smash 1989 animated film." & "Far worse, even such classics as "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" ... are delivered here in fussily staged renditions that fail to come close to the film's originals." & "Most egregious is the production's visual conception, with Tatiana Noginova's over-the-top costumes and George Tsypin's stylized set designs more often than not simply ugly to look at."
"This is a show of chiefly juvenile distractions. Stronger on color than design cohesion, its gaudy kitsch has neither the dazzling stagecraft of "Lion King" nor the impressive scale and storybook quaintness of "Mary Poppins." & "The overall effect is that of a department store holiday window conjured by some display queen with artistic pretensions and a plastic fetish -- rarely of a mysterious world fathoms below."
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