By Gary Murray

Starring Chelsea Morgan Stock, Eric Kunze and Liz McCartney

Music by Alan Menken

Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Gen Slater

Book by Doug Wright

Directed by Glenn Casale

Disney, the media giant, has been on Broadway for decades.  The company the mouse built conquered the Great White Way with such works as The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast.  The latest to take on the hard woods of the Musical Hall at Fair Park is The Little Mermaid.  It is a part of the Dallas Summer Musicals program.

The play is very much based on the animated film The Little Mermaid but is not exactly the Broadway version.  The proscenium arch is a giant shell full of deep blue bubbles.  The theatrical suggestion of water works well and becomes almost a character in the work. 

The first song is “The World Above” where young Ariel (Chelsea Morgan Stock) sings and swims all over the stage.  The effect of swimming is done with wire-work and the young actress moving her costume in a fin-like manner.   It is magical.

There are two basic impressions from this number.  First is “How can Chelsea do all that singing and emoting while being pulled around on wires?” and “How can such a small young woman carry such a massive voice?”  This young lady can sing and she rattles the rafters with her voice.  Chelsea Morgan Stock is easily one of the best singers to grace the stage of the Music Hall at Fair Park.  It is a joy to watch her work on stage.

After setting up the premise of the play with the star-crossed, the first show stopping moment happens with “Part of your World.”  Again Chelsea finds the right delivery with the song, with equal parts confusion and yearning.  It is the first miraculous moment in a play filled with wonder.

To make a 90 minute animated film into a 3-hour musical, there has to be an expanded story and extra numbers.  The sisters of Ariel get to sing a new song “She’s in Love” that becomes more of an ensemble showcase.  The actresses who play the sisters all have strong voices and each have comedic moments to shine.

The Disney villain is handled by Liz McCartney in the role of Ursula.  She becomes the personification of animated evil with a melodramatic snarl.  The biggest laughs come from her cowling and scheming.  It becomes something straight out of old vaudeville.  Her massive tentacle costume carries an eerie glow.  It is fun, a bit scary and past being over the top.

She has two henchmen Flotsam (Scott Leiendecker) and Jetsam (Sean Patrick Doyle) who slither and slide with menace.  At different points in the play, their costumes light up, giving flash to their scheming.

The highlight of Act I is “Under the Sea”, the best number from the film.  Under the lead of Sebastian (Alan Mingo, Jr.) this tune comes across as a big Busby Berkley style musical extravaganza.    To suggest the giant cast of sea beasts, there are puppet-like creatures all over the stage.  Giant jellyfish move to and fro in animated perfection much the same way the savanna was presented in The Lion King or the dragon in Shrek.

Act II starts with comic relief.  Scuttle (Matt Allen) and other seagulls perform “Positoovity” where Ariel finds her non-sea legs.  It becomes a tap dance flourish as the young performers hoof it on the stage floor. 

Easily the biggest song of Act II is “Kiss the Girl” where the mute Ariel and Prince Eric (the strong voiced Eric Kunze) bond.  Under the control of Sebastian, the number transforms into a toe-tapping experience full of young, joyful love. 

There are differences between the film and the stage-play but most are minor.  In the end, all comes out perfectly, just the way one expects from a Disney work.  This version of the work focuses more on being an outcast and the bond between fathers and daughters than it does as a love story. 

The production is a special effects spectacular experience.  Actors fly around on wire-works to simulate swimming and flying to a degree that is becomes exhausting.  This is a massive ballet of technical skills where the back-stage work is just as important and rehearsed as the actors.  Director Glenn Casale has assembled a crew and cast that put a magical spin on a classic tale. 

The backgrounds change from blues to greens to suggest the movement of the seas.  It is an explosion of different colors that gives the impression that everything on stage is swirling all the time.  This simple effect works on stage much like a magic trick does.

The question is not how does this play rank with all plays but how does it rank among Disney based plays?  I think Beauty and the Beast is the best work under the Disney moniker.  The Little Mermaid is a close second to that work.   It has everything that one wants from family entertainment.

The Little Mermaid is a must-see event that is perfect for everyone.   This work is much different than the Broadway version that premiered a few seasons back and is an improvement from that version.  It feels fresh and new, full of flourish and pop.  The Little Mermaid should not be missed. 

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