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The Little Mermaid dazzles with special effects and costumes

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Disney's The Little Mermaid


Theatre Under the Stars's production of Disney's The Little Mermaid, playing through June 22, is not just the movie you remember watching as a child. While all of the beloved songs from the feature film are present, many new songs have been added with varying levels of success.

Notable are some changes and additions made to the plot to help and extend the story to a full-length musical, as some of the scenes from the feature film (for instance, the scene near the beginning where Flounder and Ariel are chased by a shark) are simply impractical to have on stage. In the stage show, Ursula and Triton were siblings, and once Triton came of age he banished his older sister from the kingdom for dabbling in darker magics. Since then, she has been plotting to have revenge and take back her half of their undersea kingdom they inherited from their father, Poseidon. Other additions include a greater focus on Ariel's mother and the fact that she is no longer living; King Triton spends a lot of time wondering how things would be different if she was around to help parent Ariel and blames humans for her death, giving an explanation as to why he wants Ariel to stay away from the surface. Different from just being a friend, Flounder in the play has a bit of a crush on Ariel, though it is really not addressed in any meaningful way, and is never acknowledged by Ariel herself.

Parts of the extended storyline seem to drag, though some of that is attributed to the extremely difficult technical work done throughout the production. The final scene incorporates a long, awkward bit of dialogue between King Triton and Prince Eric's guardian Grimm, mainly to take up time while Ariel changes into her wedding dress. The technical work is intricately woven into the entire show and is very often a wonderful addition. Multiple characters spend a significant amount of time on flying rigs to simulate changes in depth when swimming, and Ariel's transformation from mermaid to human at the end of the first act is a stunning sight. Ursula's octopus costume is both beautiful and deadly-looking, and the eels Flotsam and Jetsam have a great gimmick to their costume of having strings of green LEDs incorporated to allow them to "electrocute" things.

While traditionalist lovers of the feature film may be dismayed at some of the new material (the scene with Scuttle tap-dancing is particularly hard to believe as thematically associated with Alan Menken's original soundtrack), for visual spectacle alone this is a show worth seeing at least once. The costumes, especially the many different sea creatures during "Under the Sea," are phenomenal, and the effects used to simulate being underwater versus being on land are subtle but bring you in to where you really believe the stage is two different areas. Since this is a very family-friendly show, if you have young children who you would like to introduce to the theater, this would be a good production at which to do so.