Hans Christian Andersen’s Underwater Tale Surfaces With Great Beauty
Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 10, 2018
Roll out the adjectives. Last night I saw opening night of “The Little Mermaid” at the Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage. I don’t know quite how to adequately report the wonders of that five-star theatrical feast without sounding sappy in my affection for the show.
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the mermaid who longs to be human remains intact, but the “telling” becomes a wonder of talent and stagecraft. The staging is nothing short of amazing. The entertainment “feast” has so many courses, that it is hard to know what to include and what to leave out, to further surprise the audience.
For starters, there is the underwater sequence where mermaid Ariel swims up to rescue the drowning Prince Eric who has fallen overboard from a storm-tossed ship. There is the continuing story shift from land above the ocean, to a ship on the ocean and to the sea beneath. The underwater scenes are incredible, as the cast continually move their “fins” enough to remind the audience that we are seeing something under the sea, while not becoming annoying with the movement.
There are the puppets portraying underwater delights, again moving as if with the flow of the tide. The Act One “Under the Sea” production number is one of the most visually dazzling sequences in memory. I did not want the scene to conclude, as the stage was alive with the excitement of being beneath the sea’s surface. Not to be outdone is an Act Two “Kiss the Girl.” This time the action is on a lagoon above the water, with puppet birds and creatures coming to enchant Ariel and Eric in a rowboat.
I am in awe at what the entire creative team at BDTS has accomplished. The direction, choreography, music, scenic design, audio, costumes and wigs, lighting, puppetry, projections, and flying design are impeccable. I can’t fathom what producing this production has entailed. Matthew D. Peters is the show’s director and choreographer who put together this wonder, produced by Michael J. Duran, with Alicia K. Meyers as assistant director.
Lillian Buonocore is charming as the confused Ariel. It is her voice the sailors hear when she emerges from the water. Buonocore’s background in classical ballet is on full display, as she is the continually moving fish under the sea, and the woman who can’t initially figure out how to use her legs when such becomes a possibility. Cole LaFonte is equally charming as Prince Eric. His voice and stage presence are impressive, and the audience and assembled cast encourage him to “Kiss the Girl” to hopefully end the evil spell cast upon her by the witch of the sea.
Supporting roles include the over-the-top evil Ursula, played by Alicia K. Meyers. Ursula is the evil witch of the sea, sister of King Triton, who will stop at nothing to win the kingdom’s title for herself. Chaz Lederer becomes Flounder the fish in love with Ariel. Bob Hoppe is non-stop delight as he taps and swims and flies as Scuttle. Scott Severtson is the underwater King Triton, with Brian and Jackson and Matthew D. Peters portraying the underwater Flotsam and Jetsam. Scott Beyette has his moments to shine as Chef Louis the above-ground chef preparing a fish meal for Ariel, without realizing that the mermaid has no desire to “eat her own.” Brian Burron is excellent as the ever-present servant Grimbsy who tries to make some order out of chaos. Sometimes stealing the show is Sebastian, the puppet crab played by Anthony P. McGlaun in the performance I saw. He is eager to help Ariel whenever possible, not so eager to be her meal when the palace chef prepares fish for dinner.
Ariel’s visits to the seashore have encouraged her to sing to the waters, with her voice beguiling many. She is also fascinated by “humans” and has created an underwater display of everything she has found in the ocean, including discarded forks that she assumes must be hair combs. Her father King Triton, is dismayed with his youngest daughter’s interest in humans, and refuses permission for her to “surface.”
Hans Christian Andersen’s original story appeared in an 1837 collection of his fairy tales. The collection also included “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The collection was not immediately successful, as Andersen’s prior successes had been as a travel writer and novelist. His fairy tales, however, resulted in his becoming the best known Danish writer. He was only 32 when “The Little Mermaid was published in the series of stories.
The animated movie version of “The Little Mermaid” was created by the Disney Corporation and released in 1989. The stage musical came to life in Denver in 2007 prior to opening on Broadway the next year. It ran for nearly 700 performances on Broadway and has subsequently been produced worldwide. The Broadway version was adapted for the touring company in 2015, with that version now being seen on stage in Boulder.
And what a sight to see! The sets, the lighting, the costumes, the flying, and the incredible beauty of the entire production. Seeing it nearly becomes gluttonous. I had visually consumed so much that I was somewhat overfull. Act Two is too long, and a slightly-reduced offering would be preferred. It took me a few post-show hours to properly digest and reflect on what I had seen, appreciating the wonder of it all.
“The Little Mermaid”
To September 8, 2018
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303