Theatre / “The Little Mermaid”. Directed by Jordan Best. At Belconnen Community Theatre until January 25. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS
“THE Little Mermaid” may not be the best of the Disney musicals, but in the experienced hands of director Jordan Best, who seems to have been waiting for this opportunity to let loose her inner child, this production is jam-packed with exuberant performances, colourful costumes, spectacular dance routines and clever staging ideas.
Although the minimalist staging facilities at the Belconnen Theatre provide a challenge for any designer hoping to create a creditable undersea environment for the first part of the show, Ian Croker has triumphed with a colourful, uncluttered setting that provides plenty of room for the large cast to execute Jodi Hammond’s spectacular dance routines and perform imaginative transformation scenes, and yet, by employing pretty lighting effects, still intimate enough for the all-important, romantic “Kiss The Girl” sequence.
The musical tells the familiar Hans Christian Andersen story of a mermaid who trades her voice for a pair of legs. But this is the Disney version, so not nearly as dark as the original, and crammed full of cute fishy side-characters to provide golden opportunities for inventive actors.
Throwing in just about every trick in the trade, Best keeps the storyline clearly in focus, while encouraging her actors to move beyond their comfort zone to create interesting characters, resulting in some very fine performances indeed.
Emily Pogson is appealing as Ariel the mermaid. She looks the part, sings prettily and receives strong support from Ben Brown as Prince Eric.
Brown struggles a bit with the songs, but what he lacks in vocal prowess is more than made up by his good looks and Disney prince charm.
Jade Breen (Flounder), Michael Jordan (King Triton) Jackie McIntyre and Elliott Cleaves (Flotsam and Jetsam) all offer strong characterisations, while Cassie Ramsay, Emily Mullamphy, Kellee-Rose Hand, Emily O’Brien, April Hand and Katy Larkin, as Ariel’s six mean-girl mersisters, capture their share of laughs as a delightful ensemble, with each creating her own clearly drawn characterisation.
Jack Morton is a stand-out as the cheeky seagull Scuttle, especially when leading a team of tap-dancing gulls for “Positoovity” and Joss Kent is simply marvellous as the manic Chef Louis. Indeed there are so many good individual performances that it is tempting not to list everyone on stage.
However, two of the performers rise above even these. Janie Lawson, offers the best work this reviewer has seen from her, to create a truly masterly villainess in Ursula the octopus, constantly on the move and skilfully phrasing her lyrics, especially “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.
Meaghan Stewart also seized the opportunity to create a memorable character as Sebastian, the lobster, literally leaving the opening-night audience cheering as she led the ensemble through Jodi Hammond’s spectacular staging of “Under The Sea”.
While the attractive recorded soundtrack gives the production a professional sound, it also led to a few draggy moments and occasionally drowned some of the un-miked singing. Full marks, however, to musical director Adam Blum for obtaining some lovely choral singing from the ensemble; to Fiona Leach for her imaginative costumes, (though hopefully some badly crushed dresses which spoilt the final scene will be rectified quickly); and full marks to Ickle Pickle productions for this delightful holiday entertainment. I don’t know about the kids, but this reviewer loved it!