The classic story of boy meets girl (or in this case, human meets mermaid), “The Little Mermaid” is a musical that will make the audience feel like they’re under the sea rather than Grand Rapids.
Based on the Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, and Disney’s animated film from 1989, the story follows Princess Ariel (Mary Lehmann), King Triton’s (Jeff Kemperman) youngest daughter who is fascinated by the human world. On one of her visits to the surface to visit her friends, Sebastian (Titus Hankins) and Flounder (Joey Collins), we watch as Ariel is immediately enthralled by Prince Eric (Adrian Almas). Prince Eric hears Ariel singing and is captivated by her voice, wanting to steer the ship in the direction to find it. A sudden storm hits the ship, causing Prince Eric to fall overboard. Ariel pulls him to safety, before plunging back into the sea to her family.
Determined to be with Prince Eric, Ariel makes a deal with Ursula (Emily Diner), a sea witch who makes her an offer she can’t refuse: human legs for three days, in exchange for her beautiful voice. If Prince Eric doesn’t kiss her within those three days, she will transform back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. Accompanied by over 30 musical numbers and dazzling costumes, the play follows as Ariel tries to navigate the human world without a voice and is determined to make Prince Eric see that his one true love is right in front of him.
The musical follows the main plotlines of the Disney movie, including classic songs such as “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea,” however, with some adjustments. For starters, the musical (for obvious reasons) includes many additional songs. Additionally, in the musical, Ariel still sings even without her voice. It’s set up, so you are aware that it’s just in her thoughts, so she is not actually singing.
Some major changes in the storyline include: Ursula is King Triton’s sister and seeking revenge on him; Flounder being in love with Ariel; Scuttle playing a large role in helping Ariel; as well as various other smaller differences. Although the musical differs from the Disney movie, it still follows the same major plot-points, as well as being easy to follow for members of the audience of any age.
Although some might consider the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre small in size, don’t be fooled by its size: the set of “The Little Mermaid” was transformed to look like an enchanted version of the bottom of the sea. With the use of wire-flying, fog machines, aqua and teal glistening backdrops, among many props, the stage design creates the feeling that we really could have been under the sea and will set your imagination reeling, no matter your age.
Accompanied with the impressive set were the spectacular and dazzling costumes. Costume designer Robert Fowle, the recent winner of the Norma Brink Lifetime Achievement Award, and “creature creator” Kathie Johnson, made the show one to remember with unique costume creations. Every mermaid tail, tentacle, claw and other costume pieces were created with shimmering, textured fabrics, creating a magical effect under the stage lights.
The cast was the key aspect of creating a dreamlike atmosphere in the theater. Not only were their voices and acting abilities wildly impressive—so was their dedication to acting like a sea creature. Whenever they were in scenes that took place in water, they constantly moved their arms in legs in a swimming motion, creating the effect of treading water.
Don’t let the fact that “The Little Mermaid” is a fairytale and children’s movie fool you; It’s enjoyable and relevant for anyone of any age. Whether you’re fanaticizing about your chance to become a mermaid, dreaming of meeting your one true love, or reflecting on the time when you made one of your parents mad, “The Little Mermaid” will have you humming along and feeling like a kid again.
“The Little Mermaid” is at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre through Dec. 16. To view the schedule or to purchase tickets, visit the website.