The Disney influence has reshaped the classic tale of The Little Mermaid for a couple of generations now, replacing the somewhat darker original fairy tale with chipper music sung by assorted underwater creatures. The result is a jubilant performance and a cavalcade of bright color pastiches at the Flat Rock Playhouse’s downtown Hendersonville location.
The production’s sequences, set in the underwater kingdom of Triton, are smartly choreographed by Matthew Glover as a fast-moving yet elegant ballet, while the above-the-seas dance numbers are what you might normally expect from musical theater. It’s a subtle but brilliant distinction and choice. The show runs through Sunday, July 23.
Upon arriving, the audience is greeted by a clever stage design by Samantha Yaeger that makes you feel as if you are under the sea, gazing out from a deep abyss into a shimmering ocean. Screen projections of animated water, background scenery and other design elements smoothly transport the audience from locale to locale as the show moves along at a brisk pace. It looks and feels every bit as good as you would expect to see in a major production of this show, or something performed in a Disney Park or on a cruise ship.
Jayne Harnett-Hargrove’s costumes are a creative feast for the eyes. Dresses suggest mermaid fins. The designs for Triton and the witch Ursula are elaborate. The Ursula costume even has elements of puppetry, with octopus tentacles being worked by Ursula’s minions, the slippery eels Flotsam, Blotsam and Jetsam. Linda Edwards plays that role with villainous glee and shines beyond the costume. A lesser performer might get lost behind the intricate design, but Edwards uses it to its fullest.
Emily Fallon’s charming Ariel is the titular fish out of water who falls for Prince Eric and longs to be with him on land. To do so, she must strike a deal with Ursula, who removes Ariel’s angelic voice and gives her legs. The irony is that Eric, who was saved from a shipwreck by Ariel, fell in love with her for her voice. He finds Ariel washed up on shore and begins to fall in love with her, even though she can’t speak. Caleb Albert is both regal and swashbuckling as Eric.
The real scene-stealers here are the anthropomorphic talking animals, like Sebastian the Crab and Flounder, who are Ariel’s friends and confidants. E.J. Parker gives us a Sebastian who is close enough to the animated film’s role, while also making it his own. Everyone in the audience knew the words to “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” and young Xavier Cacanindin, as plucky Flounder, holds his own next to the more accomplished adults on stage.
The whole experience pours out into the lobby post-show with the full cast (including professionals, local kids and amateurs) posing for pictures and signing playbills for the wide-eyed children and their parents who have just been given a thoroughly entertaining an evening.
WHAT: Disney’s The Little Mermaid
WHERE: Flat Rock Downtown, 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 23. Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Fridays-Sundays at 2 p.m. $13-$25