The Little Mermaid

By Philip Pearce

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN’S The Little Mermaid gets an attractive makeover from PacRep’s colorful new Disney stage version now playing at the outdoor Forest Theater in Carmel.  

Like Andersen’s heroine, PacRep’s aquatic Princess Ariel signs away her mermaid soul and golden voice in hopes of winning a permanent pair of land legs and the love of a human Prince. In Andersen’s bittersweet version, she loses the prince, the voice and the legs, but lives on as a piece of drifting ocean foam. Fear not! PacRep’s gorgeous and lyrical Ariel (Cassidy Weiss on the night I went) sings again, acquires a human soul and ends up safely in the arms of the stalwart, seagoing Prince Eric (Edie Flores).

It’s wonderful family entertainment. On the night I saw it, kids and parents went overboard for its romantic charm, its youthful energy, its enchanting array of underwater creatures swirling and gliding around and above the stage. They applauded the high tech flight machinery that usually propels Peter Pan and Wendy through the sky but which resourceful guest director Lara Devlin here employs to keep King Triton (her husband Rob Devlin) and his seven lovely merdaughters floating through the waves and currents of their ocean kingdom. Families laughed and threw peanuts at a flotilla of noisy seagulls who left the stage and cawed and squeaked up and down the aisles during intermission.  

The script and music by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater and Doug Wright people the familiar story with a collection of lovable eccentrics from primary-schooler Leonard Mueller stealing every scene he enters as a tiny, prancing Hermit Crab to white-wigged grandfatherly Fred Herro as Prince Eric’s fussbudget guardian Grimsby.  

Not all the athletic twists and whirls are waterborne. A tirelessly charming flounder appropriately named Flounder (Nico Abiera) roller-blades his way around the ocean floor eating his heart out for unrequited love of Ariel. I’m the offspring of a British West Indian father, so I was especially delighted with Malinda DeRouen’s authentic sounding Caribbean Courtier Crab Sebastian.  Tasked by King Triton with keeping an eye on the elusive Ariel, Seb has to take care of his own welfare when Triton’s loony French Chef (John Daniel) tries unsuccessfully to chop him up and add him to a batch of royal sauce. But by curtain call time it was clear that the favorite character in the eyes and hearts of my fellow spectators was Ariel’s nasty water witch Auntie Ursula. No fairytale, of course, is worth its salt without a flamboyant female baddie, especially if she’s covered in tentacles and played by a guy as wildly over the top as the irrepressible Rhett Wheeler. Ursula and her tentacles are deftly managed by a pair of sneaky roller-bladed glow-in-the-dark meanies known as Flotsam (Andrew Mansour) and Jetsam (Sylvie Pratt).

The music and the bubbly underwater sound effects hit all the right notes. Patrick McEvoy as usual provides dazzling flexible set units. Ziona Goren’s costumes provide wonderfully filmy fins for Ariel and her six mersisters, not to mention an impressive array of gills and flippers and feathers for creatures ranging from a corps of tap-dancing gulls—the species have a busy evening—coached by Devin Adler to an assortment of sea horses, oysters, blowfish, manta rays, barnacles, mola-mola, conga fish and seaweed.

It’s all happening weekends at the Outdoor Forest Theater through September 23rd. Open seating, so get there early, dress warmly, bring a fish dinner picnic if you’re so minded, include friends, family and especially children and grandchildren and see if a good time isn’t had by all.