OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW OF THE LITTLE MERMAID
Reviewed by Sasha Pensanti
Having seen three other productions by Literally Alive, I was quite excited to add The Little Mermaid to my list, as it is one of my favorite fairy tales. Brenda Bell and the Literally Alive crew have done an outstanding job putting together show after show based on literary works that spark the imagination in one way or another. The Little Mermaid is a part of their series for kids, which truthfully I enjoy most of all. I did have the opportunity to see one of their adult productions (Phantom of the Opera) but I appreciate their work most of all when I look around me and see children wide-eyed and mesmerized by what they see on the stage in front of them. If there are any kids in your life, do take them to a production by this company; it is worth every penny.
Now, to be more specific about this particular production. The set was beautiful, I wish I had remembered that Literally Alive allows photographs (sans flash!) during the show, I would have taken photos to show exactly what they put together. Still, it was lovely. Everything had that shiny mother-of-pearl effect that made it look as though what were seeing took place below the surface of the water. As she does at every show, Brenda Bell came out and gave an introduction, getting the kids prepared, and excited. She does adorable things, such as asking them if they think the actors in the TV can hear them when they talk. No? What about on the stage? Ah yes, of course they can. I love the way she is making good theatergoers out of these children.
Here is the thing about their productions: they are pretty much perfect for kids. I see so many kids in the audience, beaming at the characters on stage. Some perhaps they knew from stories or Disney movies, some are new to them. Occasionally it is a pretty mermaid named Coral who can sing like a dream, and sometimes for boys it is the fact that her sister asked her to stab the prince to death...I mean, what is that about? Well, it is in the original story, but I think that, which I will get to later, is the only part I would say is NOT perfect for children. At least not the super young ones.
So the production is not perfect, but hardly any kids shows that are not on a Broadway budget are. Still, you can tell the cast members enjoy themselves, which is something vital not only for kid shows, but all theatre. Beyond that, they do the unthinkable and actually put children in the show -- I love it! Some of them have that deer in the headlights look that says they have no idea what is going on. But that is ok! It all has to begin somewhere, right?
Starting with Brianna Hurley who played The Fish Witch and the human princess, I was extremely pleased. She was exactly what one would want from the "Fish Witch." Entertaining, quirky, and downright hilarious at points. I say with confidence, having seen her in previous productions, that she may be the most talented performer in the show. I also very much enjoyed Jenna Lipe who played the little mermaid herself, Coral. She has that fresh-faced nature to her that makes her perfect to play the most curious of the mermaids, however there were moments when she fell off key. Honestly, I think it has more to do with her not being able to hear the music, than her ability, but I suppose that is no excuse.
I really enjoyed the music they put together for this show, much more than I have liked the music for their past shows, but I do believe it still remains that their actors have difficulty hearing the band, because it is out in the audience. Not that there is anything they can do to change that, as they are limited by the space. I love the Players Theatre dearly, but I do think it might be good for them to find another space sooner or later.
Following the two girls I mentioned above, King Neptune, played by Erik Fletcher was highly entertaining. I had also seen him in previous productions, which makes me think they did not use all the skills he possesses, but I still liked him. He made me laugh. In fact, he made all the adults in the audience laugh. You never know how important that is until you are surrounded by little tots and the parents have blank stares on their faces-- he stopped that from happening, thank goodness.
There were other performers in the production, who shall remain nameless, that I did not enjoy. Not one bit. Rather I found them annoying, not the best performers, either. Here is the thing though: the kids didn't mind! No, they loved them. They laughed at their annoying voices and had a great time. As I mentioned previously, I was surprised they kept in the fact that Coral was told by her sisters to stab the prince; it seemed extreme for children. Just the same, I have no suggestions about what they could have done instead, and the boys screamed a lot of "Yeah!"s.
Truthfully, I had a great time. I have to remember to be objective when seeing shows for children, and so do parents. What is more important: them loving it, or you loving it? We all know the answer. It is so important to expose our kids to these things at an early age and this company gives us that opportunity. I love The Little Mermaid and Literally Alive kept it as true to the original story as possible. I hope everyone with little ones takes them to a Literally Alive production soon. Brenda Bell and her crew are creating the theatre lovers of the future and I for one cannot wait to see what they do next.