Diana Huey in Disneys THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Mark & Tracy Photography.
Starlight Theatre is kicking off their 67th season with a magical production of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and the 1989 Disney film, and it does not disappoint.
Ariel is a mermaid who feels out of place in the ocean. She dreams of finding a place where she can belong, and is sure she’s found it when she breaks through the surface of the water into the open air, against the wishes of her father, King Triton.
Eric, the prince of the kingdom on the surface, is also struggling with his place in life. He is supposed to take a wife and assume the throne, but he is in love with the sea, and is not ready to trade the freedom he finds there for the crown.
The fates of the two unhappy royals collide when, during one of her forbidden journeys to the surface, Ariel rescues Eric from drowning after he falls overboard in a storm. That chance meeting sets into motion a series of events that lead Ariel to make a bargain with her Aunt Ursula, The Sea Witch. The terms of the deal will give Ariel three days as a human to court Eric and get him to kiss her, but at the cost of her voice. If she succeeds, Ariel will get to remain human and live on land for the rest of her life. If she fails, she will be doomed to live with Ursula in her “watery hell” for all eternity.
For fans of the 1989 Disney movie, the above description likely contains a few unfamiliar details. That is because the stage musical is not just a replica of the film. Rather, it is an expanded version of the story that goes beyond the teenage crush to include a deeper motivation for Ariel to wish for legs. This story takes some different turns than the animated movie and borrows a little more from the original tale, but fans have no need to worry since the show still features all of the iconic songs, and adds in quite a few more to good effect.
Throughout the course of the show, technical expertise and pure theater magic come together to create a deep underwater world, a grand palace, and several settings in between. Whereas the underwater world is marked primarily by shades of green, blue and purple, the surface relies on red, yellow and orange. The clever use of color and light makes it possible to show two very different worlds on the same stage while keeping them both perfectly believable.
Inhabiting both of these worlds is a huge challenge for any actor, and Diana Huey excels. Huey is everything you could ever want in an Ariel. Not only does she bring all of the sweet yearning and innocence you’d expect, but she displays personal fortitude and athleticism by keeping up a continued swimming motion through the entire first act, then dancing her way through the second, all while singing her heart out. Her crowning achievement comes during the song “Part of Your World” when she swims above the stage with her full body in motion and fins flicking. In spite of the aerial acrobatics, Huey sings the song beautifully — without any hint of breathlessness, and without missing a single note.
Sharing the stage with Huey is the full complement of talented actors who fill their famous roles in a satisfying way. Some notable performances include Melvin Abston, who plays Sebastian perfectly; Dane Stokinger, who lends an impressive vocal range and great comedic timing to the role of Chef Louis; and Jennifer Allen, who portrays Ursula as an evil woman who has been scorned, yet refuses to lose her sense of humor.
Bringing additional magic and surprising realism to the underwater stage is the joint work of Costume Designers Amy Clark and Mark Koss, and Choreographer John Macinnis. The large fins on the merfolk’s gowns look beautiful and flow gracefully when propelled by the subtle movements of the cast members wearing them, and Ursula’s spectacular tentacled dress comes alive primarily through the choreographed movements of Flotsam (Brandon Roach) and Jetsam (Frederick Hagreen). The overall effect is a stage alive with constant movement and beautiful dancing, all of which appears to be floating in a gentle current.
Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID runs through June 11th. For more information, visit www.kcstarlight.com.