Dallas — Take a dive into the stunning spectacle of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, on stage now at the Music Hall at Fair Park presented by Dallas Summer Musicals. All of the beloved songs from the 1989 animated film remain, with new tunes by original composer Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.
The book by Doug Wright keeps most of the plot points, and additions prove so subtle, one wonders why they weren’t in the movie to begin with. Based on the Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, the story follows Ariel (Alison Woods), a royal mermaid with aspirations of joining the human world on the surface. When a storm brings her face-to-face with the object of her affections, Eric (Eric Kunze), she goes to dangerous lengths to get what she wants and trades her precious singing voice to the sea witch Ursula (Tracy Lore) for a set of legs.
The narrative focuses not only on her attempts to woo her true love without a voice, but also on the merits of communicating without words. In our modern world that can’t seem to stop talking, this concept rings exceptionally true. Ariel’s father King Triton (Fred Inkley) learns to put away his unfounded prejudices against the human world, another wise lesson.
Considering the film kicked off the modern age of soprano princesses, it’s no wonder this production is a demanding vocal show. Woods plays the part of Ariel perfectly, worthy of a Disney princess. She sounds much like Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) in Tangled, which is interesting considering she worked as an animation reference for that film. Kunze delivers a dynamic range of emotions, from the impassioned “Fathoms Below” to the desirous “Her Voice.”
Melvin Abston nails Sebastian to a T as he putters anxiously around the stage and warbles soulfully in “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” but provides enough unique inflection to the Jamaican-accented character.
Really, the same can be said of all the characters. They’re similar enough to the movie counterparts, but refrain from being a carbon copy. Each cast member delivers outstanding vocals and believable line delivery (as much as one can get in a fantasy production). National tours typically have outstanding performers, but this group brings a consistency and excellence to the show that’s still rare to see.
For the amount of vocals, however, movement still plays a huge role. To achieve the effect of being underwater, all the mer-creatures exhibit a slight undulation, subtly noticeable at the beginning but becomes part of the scenery as the show moves on. Wirework sends them soaring above the stage to convey depth, where those slight movements take even more control.
The most glittering musical number, of course, is “Under the Sea.” A wide range of costumes by Amy Clark and Mark Koss and Caribbean-style choreography by John MacInnis create a beautifully dizzying array of color and spice. Add in a little puppetry, and it’s one that’ll have your shoulders shimmying and hips moving.
Other notable sequences include the 1960s-style “She’s In Love,” with an adorably pouty Adam Garst as Flounder, and Lore’s showstopper “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Jamie Torcellini as Scuttle and the ensemble shuffle around to “Postitoovity,” a delightfully precise tap number, but the most side-splitting by far is “Les Poissons” featuring Jeff Skowron as Chef Louis, as he battles Sebastian on and under the dinner table.
As a Disney production, it’s a wonderfully family-friendly show. The Ursula scenes get a little loud and could be frightening for the very young, but the visual magic of the evening will be well worth it for them. The show is in Dallas for another week, then it swims to Bass Hall in Fort Worth. If you’d like to hear even more sea-themed puns and wordplay, flip your fins and get on over there.