Seeing an onstage adaptation of one of your favorite Disney movies could go one of two ways. Sure, it's exciting to revisit a world you know and love, as well as hear — and sing along with — the classic songs. But a theater production inevitably alters elements to conform to the stage, which could compromise those warm and fuzzy feelings.
That's definitely the case with The Little Mermaid, which both honors and departs from the original film. The basics are all there: Ariel (Alison Woods) still dreams of living on land, much to the chagrin of her father, King Triton (Fred Inkley) and friends Flounder (Adam Garst) and Sebastian (Melvin Abston). One chance encounter with Prince Eric (Eric Kunze) is all it takes for Ariel to be willing to do anything to fulfill her dream, even if it means sacrificing her beautiful voice to the sea witch Ursula (Tracy Lore).
Depending on how long ago you watched the original animated version, you may or may not remember that the list of songs in the movie was pretty short. There were seven total, and only four of those — "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," and "Kiss the Girl" — were truly memorable. What that means for a Broadway production is a lot of filler material in order to get to the songs you know.
Unfairly or not, few of the new songs, all of which were written by Glenn Slater, live up to the standard set by the aforementioned four. Most of them exist in order to give more stage time for characters like Prince Eric, who was missing any real background in the movie. But the songs lack pizzazz, and you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the next familiar song.
When those songs do come along, they deliver on a nostalgic level, but not as much on a theatrical level. Woods' voice seems a tad thin, making "Part of Your World" underwhelming. Sebastian's two big moments in "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" are great musically, but the choreography and unimaginative stagecraft make them disappointing.
In fact, the set decoration as a whole doesn't seem to be Broadway quality. Perhaps they focused on getting the makeup and hair just right for the various characters, but the other elements seem to be more fitting for a lesser production than a big, nationally touring musical. The only thing that sets it apart is the occasional
flying swimming sequence, which finds the mermaids effortlessly gliding over the stage.
The onstage version of The Little Mermaid won't ruin your memories of the film, but it's unlikely to leave as lasting an impression.
Dallas Summer Musicals presents The Little Mermaid at the Music Hall at Fair Park through March 27.