The Walt Disney Company has been producing visually stunning live shows since it dived into the theater scene with The Lion King in 1997. Disney’s The Little Mermaid is no exception. This show is more breathtaking than the original Broadway production in almost every way. The Little Mermaid is a show you do not want to miss.
You know you’re in for a treat from the first rising scales of the overture. The show perfectly mixes the familiarity of Disney’s animated classic with new songs, backstories and beautiful staging. While “underwater,” the actors are constantly in motion, undulating their bodies to emulate the constant movement of the sea. Bubbles fly in from the top of the stage every time the characters swim to the surface and each sea creature is more spectacularly costumed than the last.
The real heroes of the show are the costume designers, Amy Clark and Mark Koss. Instead of the large false tails and wheel-heeled shoes of the original Broadway production, this show features flowing tails, creepy tentacles and Taymore-esque fish puppets. Additionally, no one’s midriff is bare, so you get to focus on the actor’s performance rather than their ab workout success.
The mermaid tails deserve a standing ovation of their own. The costumes now feature the traditional mermaid tail in the front and back of a skirt with flowing silk on either side, which the actors manipulate to add movement to a scene. On the ground it’s nice. In the air, it’s breathtaking.
While the new added songs don’t hold a candle to the movie originals, they serve to flesh out the characters and add depth to the story. Prince Eric, King Triton and Ursula are all given more character background and motivation by the new songs. It also helps turn the play away from an insipid love story, allowing it to take on bigger issues of belonging and self-actualization.
But let’s be honest, the theater is crammed packed of little girls and Disney fans waiting to hear Ariel, played by Diana Huey, sing “Part of Your World.” Thankfully, Huey doesn’t disappoint. While her vocals are not quite as memorable as those of the movie or original Broadway cast, those performers didn’t have to belt out the iconic song while flying on a harness and undulating their bodies to mimic swimming. Plus, Huey manages to make the whole thing look graceful and feel sincere. She portrays the perfect mixture of sweet innocence and fiery determination that make the character so memorable. Furthermore, her performance and the added songs make you understand why this mermaid would fall for the prince and his world, which is a distinct improvement from the movie and the original fairy tale.
There has been some controversy about casting Huey as the iconic mermaid because she is of Asian-decent. To that, I say phooey. She spends a good portion of the show mid-air using her remarkable core strength to look like she’s swimming. To find someone who can do that night after night is incredible, let alone sing, dance and act too. There are disproportionately few roles given to Asian-American actors in theater and movies today, which is a shame. It’s ridiculous to criticize Huey for her ethnicity, especially considering how well she plays the role. Let the little girls have their princess; they’re not going to care how she looks.
If you enjoy theater, you will enjoy this show. The actors are extremely talented, the staging is stunning and the story is just as good as ever. Theater in downtown San Jose has been touch-and-go over the years but you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss this incredible show.
The Little Mermaid is playing at the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown San Jose now through October 1, 2017. The show runs two-and-half hours with one intermission. Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.com, in-person at the City National Civic Box Office (150 W. San Carlos Street, San Jose) or by phone at 800-982-ARTS (2787).
Photos courtesy of Steve Wilson and Mark&Tracy Photography