THEATER REVIEW: “The Little Mermaid” @ Beck Center by Roy Berko

Through Sun 12/31

Yes, Beck Center has decided to recycle The Little Mermaid, last year’s holiday production so that more children of all ages can follow Ariel, the daughter of King Triton, the master of the sea, in her search for “a world in which I feel truly realized on my own terms.”

The Little Mermaid is based on the 1989 Disney film of the same name, which brought to the big screen Hans Christian Anderson’s magical tale. The script made its Broadway debut in January 2008 and ran 685 performances and 50 previews. The Beck show is an interpretation developed in 2012 which stresses Ariel’s ambitions are bigger than the search for a man to complete her.

For those of you who are new to the story, as the tale starts, Ariel, her sidekick Flounder, her sisters, the fish and crustations of the sea, frolic. Meanwhile, Prince Eric and his adviser Grimsby are aboard a ship at sea and hear a lovely voice. The Prince is immediately captivated by the sound, thus laying the groundwork for his eventual pursuit of the source of the music. It is, of course, Ariel.

A storm, Eric being saved by his yet unrecognized lady love Ariel, who is fascinated by the “real” world, and the plotting by Ariel’s evil Aunt Ursula to get revenge on Triton for taking away her “deserved” inheritance as the equal controller of the seas, all advance the plot.

Ursula makes a deal with Ariel in which the young beauty exchanges her singing voice for legs to replace her mermaid tail, thus becoming a human. Ariel and Eric spending time together (spoiler alert!), a conflict between Ariel, Triton and Ursula in which the magic seashell is broken and the bad aunt is destroyed, Eric proposing marriage, the declaration of peace between humans and the merfolk, and, as in all good fairy tales, the royal joining in marriage of Ariel and Eric, wrap up the tale.

For this year’s production, Martin Céspedes re-envisons some of his award-winning creative and stimulating choreography which covers calypso, ballroom, soft-shoe, line dancing, and some balletic moments. Alan Menken’s music is again lushly played by Larry Goodpaster and his large orchestra, and we get to swim above and below the sea thanks to Adam Zeek’s creative projections.

Also back are the lovely Kathleen Rooney as Ariel and handsome Shane Patrick O’Neil as her prince charming, as well as the 2016 Playhouse Square’s Dazzle Award winner, J. R. Heckman, as Flounder, Natalie Blalock as the bad, bad Ursula, Darryl Lewis as King Triton, Zachary Vederman (Scuttle), Wesley Allen (Sebastian) and Robert Pierce (Chef Louis).

So what could be wrong? Though the outstanding vocals are present, the entire production, with the exception of the dancing, seems to be emotionally flat.

The cast seems to be walking through their performances rather than enjoying themselves. Their attitude is catching as the young audience at a Saturday matinee wiggled, squirmed, and kept wandering up and down the aisles followed by their frantic mothers. Not their fault. The production needs a good dose of directorial induced enthusiasm!

Also, in spite of a valiant try by sound designer Carlton Guc, the sound system made understanding sung words difficult. Why won’t the powers-that-be at Beck take the criticism of the theater reviewers and patrons, and finally do something about their outdated sound system?

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: I wish I could rave about this go-around of The Little Mermaid as I did last year, but I can’t. This production is acceptable, but with all that talent on stage, there needs to be an infusion of joy and enthusiasm to make it reach the high levels of which it is capable.

The Little Mermaid is scheduled to run through Sun 12/31. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to beckcenter.org.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

 

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