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'The Little Mermaid': TUTS goes under the sea for a musical not to be missed

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The Little Mermaid

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TUTS presents "The Little Mermaid" the hit musical adapted from the widely successful Disney classic and story by Hans Christian Andersen of the same name. Audiences get to experience all the magic, love and wonder from the movie now in a musical stage production.

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"The Little Mermaid" was adapted for the stage by Doug Wright, who wrote the musical book, Alan Menken who wrote the music and Howard Ashman who wrote the lyrics for the movie, with Glenn Slater writing additional lyrics. The production originally opened in 2008 and closed about a year and a half later after almost 700 performances. The production has gone on to travel the world with a modified European production that played in Japan, Russia, The Philippines, and The Netherlands.

Glenn Casale directs the re-imagined musical for the TUTS stage. John Maclnnis did the choreography, which presents obvious obstacles namely with the majority of the characters being sea creatures. The choreography combined with the amazing set designs by Kenneth Foy, gives the audience that real "under the sea" feeling. Paul Rubin choreographed the flying sequences, which with this production being "under water" there are many and all exciting to witness. The TUTS production can rival that of any Broadway production in costuming (Amy Clark and Mark Moss), set design, lighting (Charlie Morrison), musical direction (conductor: Craig Barna) and talent. Every artistic element comes together flawlessly to create a production eye catching to children and pleasing to the adults and young at heart.

This classic story, that parents and child alike, already know by heart gets a bit of a make over and reboot for the stage. The mischievous mermaid Ariel (Jessica Grové) dreams of being a part of the human world and creates unforeseen mayhem through her desire. Much of the same magical movie moments appear on stage as audiences watch Ariel's story of longing and love unfold.

Her friends Flounder (Christian Probst) and Scuttle (Matt Allen) travel with her as she defies her father King Triton (Steve Blanchard) to go to the surface. While on the surface, she watches a ship with Prince Eric (Eric Kunze) who desires to cast aside his royal duties to fish and be at sea. When a storm tosses him overboard, Ariel comes to his rescue yet knows she must away before he wakes. Her desire to be on land only intensifies after this encounter to the disgust of her father and bewilderment of her sisters and friends.

Just as in the movie, Sebastian's (Alan Mingo, Jr.) “Under the Sea" steals the show in the first act. TUTS audiences get a rare treat watching Mingo, the original Broadway cast member of “The Little Mermaid”, amaze and delight with his out of this world vocals. Grové has a truly amazing voice but mix Mingo’s charm, wit, and piercing vocals, he simply hypnotizes. The costuming and sets during this number take your breath away. The bright colors and lighting that hits all the right marks transports the audience to a free, fun spirited under water extravaganza like an underwater Mardi Gras celebration, fit for the whole family.

Ursula (Liz McCartney) is wickedly striking in voice, stature, and attire. McCartney appears to have burst straight out of the movie. Despite her evil demeanor, she still is a humorous and strangely likable character. McCartney’s voice and performance is complemented on stage by her outstanding make up and costume. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” sung by McCartney closes the first act and highlights all her wicked desires and showcases her mesmerizing voice.

As the second act opens, Ariel has made it on land and now has a short window to get a kiss and win the heart of her prince. Ariel unable to speak must get a kiss in three days’ time, or else the evil Ursula will take her soul and all hope of happiness and love from her. Kunze and Grové have amazing chemistry on stage as they dance their way into each other’s hearts. Kunze is a strong, charming actor with a smooth voice that would make any woman swoon. Grové has a “girl next door” quality and wholesome demeanor with a soft, tender and beautiful voice. Audiences can't help but fall in love with these two, as they struggle against all odds.

Despite the two bonding, the Prince is still under time constraints to find a queen. Since he is obsessed with a magical voice he heard singing to him when he was rescued, Grimsby (Dale Hensley) decides to invite princesses to sing for him. Kunze shows off his vocals in his tender song “One Step Closer” when audiences witness the struggle of his character, which is similar to that of Ariel. They struggle to fight for what they truly want despite it not being what others around them believe to be right or best for them.

The musical reaches its pivotal climax, as each character comes to realize exactly what is important in their lives and those of the people they love. This musical does an outstanding job of not only having fun, but also tugging at the heartstrings of audiences as they watch these characters grow and change on stage. This musical has a deeper emotional connection with audiences. The children can still enjoy the fun, with Chef Louis song in Act Two “Les Poissons”, which is humor filled and mixed with incredible vocals by Bryan Ray Norris as well as the other traditional favorites. Adults though can find greater meaning in the story, as this musical appears to dig deeper into each character and expose struggles and emotions unlike those seen in the movie.

This musical is pointed and highlights tender moments through a few key songs like "If Only (Quartet)" sung by Ariel (Grové), Prince Eric (Kunze), King Triton (Blanchard) and Sebastien (Mingo) or Sebastian (Mingo) singing "Kiss the Girl". Every vocal performance in this production will leave audiences in awe at the power, strength and vocal range each performer has. Audiences will find a tear forming in their eye as they become completely engaged in this love story and story of a young girl who longs to grow up and live the life she wants despite it meaning she will leave behind the only life and world she ever knew.

Although audiences might believe they know the story of "The Little Mermaid" until they have seen the TUTS production, it's not quite true. This musical will have you in wonder, intrigue, laughing, humming along and even wiping away a few tears. Young and the young at heart will be sorry if they miss the chance to see this family friendly musical about love and finding a place to belong even if it means following your heart when you have very little support and understanding. Let the magical story once again take you under the sea to re-experience a story you thought you knew, only to discover countless more reasons to fall in love all over again.

"The Little Mermaid" continues to delight and amazes Houston audiences through June 29. For ticket information visit www.tuts.com, call 713-558-8887 or come by the Theatre Under the Stars box office located at 800 Bagby at Walker, Monday-Friday 10 am-6 pm and Saturday-Sunday 11 am-4 pm.

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