Thursday, July 26, 2012

Little Mermaid Afterglow

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The production of Little Mermaid in the theater in the round at Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento was one of the best cast and tightest shows I have seen. This show could tour for years and pull in audiences all over the world. It’s amazing that a Disney show about a mermaid could appeal to men, women and children of all ages. But that is what I found in talking to audience members around me. The storyline of the love between a father and daughter, her rebellion, consequences and repentance touches all of our hearts. The love story between Ariel and Prince Eric appeals to females young and old and the witch Ursula’s Faustian scheme adds tension to the plot.

Comic relief is added by the brilliantly played characters Sebastian (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), Scuttle (Jack Doyle), the love-struck, skateboarding teenager Flounder (Henry Hodges), and Chef Louis (Eric Gunhus), hysterical in the impeccably staged “Les Poissons”. I was so impressed with the voices, characterizations and timing of each of these men. Jessica Grove couldn’t have been more perfect as the Mermaid. She totally looked and sounded the part and was able to portray the conflict between her dedication to her father and her desire to see more of the world above the sea. Merwin Foard, as an almost Shakespearean King Triton was regal and commanding and the theater echoed with his booming baritone.

It wouldn’t be a Disney story without an evil character to threaten the hero and Vicki Lewis couldn’t have been a better villainess as Ursula. Her costume was almost a character in itself, an amazing creation of long squid tentacles that had a life of their own. The slimy cronies, Flotsom and Jetson, (impeccably played by Scott Leiendecker and Ben Roseberry as the electric eels) had sparkling green bodysuits that lit up when they talked. In fact, every single costume was a work of art. Ariel and her mermaid sisters with their gowns made of silk gave the impression of movement as they undulated their bodies to mimic the motion of the water.

Director Glenn Casale reworked the show and the script tirelessly up to the last minute, tweaking and tightening it into a seamless production. The set design and blocking, a challenge for theater in the round, was minimal, efficient and effective, with the help of the rotating platform. At the end of the first act, Ariel’s transformation from a mermaid into a woman was thrilling to behold, as she was swimming (flown) up toward the surface, her tail dropping off and she suddenly had legs. Glenn’s use of the aisles to stage scenes brought the show into the audience, much to the delight of the little girl sitting to my right. She gasped as she saw Ariel up close. The clever script had the audience in stitches. Prince Eric was trying to guess the mute Ariel’s name: “Jasmine? Mulan? Belle?” King Triton: “As long as you live under my reef you’ll abide by my rules”. Sebastian: “The seaweed is always greener on the other side”.

Even the music was being reworked practically until opening night. The Broadway score was being combined with the existing book and the orchestra and performers didn’t work together until a few days before. The songs were so memorable I still find myself humming them now, days later. “Her Voice”, Eric’s solo, was heartrending and haunting. I especially loved the quartet “If Only” between Triton, Ariel, Prince Eric and Sebastian, each singer holding their own as they poignantly sang about their feelings.

Of course, my focus was on Eric Kunze, the embodiment of royalty as Prince Eric. One arm behind his back and the other in a regal wave, I almost forgot he was Eric from San Diego. One review said of him, “finally a Prince Eric who can actually act as well as sing”, and he did both with perfection. My only complaint would be that, while he sang with other people, he didn’t have enough solos. The one he did have (Her Voice) was beautiful. Vocally, this show wasn’t as challenging as, say, Jesus Christ Superstar or Miss Saigon, but it was great to see him do something on a lighter note. He looked fantastic in his billowing white shirt and knee high boots. I had to chuckle when Ariel saw him and said “he’s so beautiful, so perfect in every way.” I’m sure every woman in the audience felt the same way.

After the shows there were throngs of little girls, many in their Little Mermaid costumes and some even in red wigs, waiting for his and Jessica’s autographs. Eric patiently signed everyone’s programs and tirelessly posed for photographs. One night he met a special girl named Riley who has been battling three bouts of leukemia. She was thrilled to meet him and especially thrilled with the tiara and Prince Eric doll she received from him. She slept with the Prince Eric doll that night and hasn’t left it far from her sight since.

Eric also took time out of his demanding schedule to come to our fanclub meeting at Cafeteria restaurant. We were thrilled and honored to spend time with him.  He was gracious to answer our questions and pose for pictures before he had to go to the theater. Several of the fanclub had traveled long distances to attend; some from Michigan and another from Pennsylvania, as well as driving into Sacramento from outside the city. We all felt it was well worth the time, expense and effort to get there. Eric’s kindness, humbleness and talent is what draws people to him like bees to honey. I have never heard him say an unkind word about anyone and, in turn, I have never had anyone make a negative comment about him. That is very rare in today’s world. Thank you, Eric, for every thrilling moment!

1 comment:

Anita Riggio said...

Well said, Maggi--thank you!