Musical: “The Little Mermaid”
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 14
Tickets: From free to $66; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Ariel the mermaid is the youngest of King Triton’s children in his nautical kingdom. To his displeasure, she’s obsessed with humans, collecting artifacts she’s found and storing them in her secret chamber. When she sees handsome Prince Eric aboard a ship, she immediately falls in love with him, as does he with her ethereally beautiful voice. During a storm Eric is thrown overboard and rescued unconscious by Ariel.
The mermaid makes a deal with her nefarious Aunt Ursula, agreeing to become human for three days in an attempt to get Eric to kiss her and make her permanently human. If that doesn’t happen, Ursula will keep Ariel in slavery and also claim her beautiful voice. And Ursula will do whatever it takes to make sure she gets what she wants.
Highlights: The Muny may be the first theater beyond Broadway to stage this Disney musical, which is based on the 1989 Disney film and the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The musical version had a tryout in Denver in 2007 and then moved to Broadway, closing in 2009 after 735 performances, including previews. Despite a dull book by Doug Wright, the show appears to be a crowd-pleaser for the tykes, as evidenced by a full house on opening night in the 11,000-seat amphitheater.
The best part of the show is the charming and delightful music composed by Alan Menken. Equally pleasing lyrics from tunes taken from the movie are by the late Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics for the musical written by Glenn Slater. It’s definitely the music that provides the production’s best moments, emphasized by tunes such as the calypso-flavored “Under the Sea,” the poetic ballad, “Kiss the Girl” and the sassy flavor of Ursula’s pronouncement that “I Want the Good Times Back.”
Other Info: While the children’s movie clocked in at just under 78 minutes, the musical lumbers along in two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. That’s about 30 minutes too long, as evidenced by the restless nature of scads of kids in the audience, despite the show’s charm and good nature. Additionally, for some adults the book is dreadfully dull, creating an ocean of interminable distance between the enchanting melodies.
Still, there are plenty of good performances under Paul Blake’s assured direction that add spice and satisfaction to the prolonged evening. Paul Vogt is a high point, dressed in sartorial green drag as the conniving Ursula, sashaying his nasty way through the jaunty “I Want the Good Times Back” or the mock ballad, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” With the dexterous assistance of Matt Braver and Max Kumangai as his slimy eel underlings, the villainous components of the tale are in very capable fins, or whatever.
Patti Murin makes her Muny debut and demonstrates a fine voice as the idealistic Ariel, offering a lilting version of the winsome ballad, “Part of Your World.” She also shares some real chemistry, both with the appealing John Riddle as Prince Eric and with the insouciant Elizabeth Teeter as the precocious fish Flounder.
Muny crowd-pleasing veterans Francis Jue and Lara Teeter (Elizabeth’s dad) have fun as Ariel’s busybody tutor, Sebastian the crab, and her tongue-tied friend Scuttle the seagull, respectively. Jue leads the show’s best number, “Under the Sea,” which choreographer Alex Sanchez fills with a sea full of the Muny youth ensemble as they swim their way through the teeming waters. Jue also shows a warm touch with the tender ballad, “Kiss the Girl.”
The elder Teeter gets to demonstrate his comic ability on the silly number, “Positoovity,” as well as his smooth terpsichorean talent tap dancing along to the amusing lyrics. Muny favorite Ken Page delivers the number “The World Above” in his familiar booming bass, as well as offering a reassuring paternal portrait of Ariel’s stern but kindly father, King Triton.
Gary Glasgow is his usual reassuring self as Eric’s trusted confidante, Grimsby. Madeline Trumble brings warmth and stability to the role of Eric’s head of the castle, Madame Carlotta, and Muny crowd-pleaser Lee Roy Reams milks the role of the prince’s flamboyant cook, Chef Louis, as he concocts a scheme to boil Sebastian’s tasty self.
Michael Anania’s colorful scenic designs provide a suitable backdrop for the action, complemented by David Lander’s lighting and Jason Krueger’s sound. Kansas City Costume adorns the cast in resplendent nautical togs, and Greg Anthony’s musical direction makes the most of Menken’s stylish tunes.
Director Blake allows each of the players their moment in the water and everyone has fun with the songs. If only Wright’s book showed some life instead of floating belly up far too often and far too long.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.