Little Mermaid on Broadway



So I saw the Little Mermaid on Broadway the other night. Not sure how many of you saw it in Denver..and not sure what might have been changed...I suspect "not enough".

Lest I be accused of more curmudgeonly behavior, I should say that Sierra Boggess (sp?) was DE-lightful. I felt that she WAS Ariel. She doesn't mess with the image of Ariel that you have in your mind because whether well-studied or just naturally inclined, she has so many of Ariels mannerisms down and her voice is extraordinarily like Jodi Benson's. I have seen different incarnations of Ariel in parades and shows, but none have approached the animated-character-come-alive sensation that Sierra manages. Can't say enough good things about her.

Sadly, that's about it.

The set, with the exception of the wave illusions, is completely unimaginative. There is a confusing pendulum ship...the undersea world is a blue version of the "green box" that sank "Tarzan the Musical"...neither the undersea world nor the terrestrial world is compelling. Perhaps worst of all are two huge set pieces that awkwardly open up into dual carousels when needed (they're never needed) and sit in as furniture when the set is otherwise uncomfortably bare. If they had only used one and it operated in a manner similar to the Dumbo ride in Disneyland, I think it would have been much more effective in numbers like Under the Sea and Kiss the it is, the primary amusement comes from watching the fish extras duck so as not to be beheaded by these awkward rotating pieces of junk. The castle is more imaginary than literal which is ok, but would have been more impressive had it been literally represented. One scene in particular suffers for this...Ariel is singing in her castle bed in soliloquy, then joined by Eric aboard his ship, then joined by Triton under the sea and finally by Grimsby, presumably in the castle. Since there IS no castle...Ariel is on the floor of the stage, Eric hovers above her on deck, Triton is next to her and Grimsby enters beside her. Spatially the set would have benefited from maintaining everyone's relative Triton on the lowest level, Eric aboard ship, Ariel and Grimsby ensconced in the castle. For something as 3 dimensionally mobile as the undersea world, this set and staging seem hopelessly earthbound....with the wheelies...and the lack of any dimension.

Ursula has been rethought, not for the better, though Sherie Rene Scott commits to her performance. They nail home the idea that Ursula is Triton's sister and that she suffers from a bad case of sibling rivalry. Her tentacles appear in various part of a huge skirt....hovering from behind her pod, and entering from off stage. You never quite understand how they function because they're often shown in multiple ways at the same time. Is this some bigger animal that we haven't seen? Why aren't they connected to her? It gives the impression that the squid from 20,000 Leagues is hovering nearby ready to drag this production back to a watery grave.

Triton is impotent and uncommanding. To further illustrate this, his triton broke mid-performance and he tripped on his wheelies sending him stuttering offstage. Sebastian's agile crablike nature has been replaced with a bad, old man dotteryness. You know what the actor was trying to do...and you know that he fails. I wanted him to walk sideways. If you hated Scuttle in the movie, you'll loathe him in the show where his role has been expanded with a completely unnecessary pad number. The gulls are all dressed like hobos clowns which, at least in my book, makes them doubly annoying. Eric, who was one of the first masculine princes in Disney animation has been boyified, perhaps making him more "Disney", but compromising his appeal as a strong character. Jonathan Freeman (Jafar in Aladdin) is wasted completely as Grimsby succeeding only as background furniture. Flounder has morphed into standard issue African American kid stereotype....with fins. Flotsam and Jetsom have what appear to be fiber optic limbs, but the effect isn't utilized anywhere else in the production and only serves to remind you how cool it could have been. Louis, however, is amusing...and not overused.

The additional music is both drawn from the score (similar to Beauty and the Beast) and newly-composed. I found the score-derived songs to be forgettable, but perfect fits. The new songs seemed to be standard Broadway filler...Posituvity and Ursula's first song about bringing back the good old days belong in some other show. Introducing Ursula with an upbeat number seems to rob her of her villainy right off the bat. I think the filmmakers understood this and therefore provides her with a vampy number. The only exception I found was the number, previously mentioned, where Ariel sings first, then joined by Eric, Triton and Grimsby. It was a true Broadway moment...well-sung...well-performed...well-suited to the show. (Similar to the 3-some between the main characters in Aida.)

In an effort to alleviate previous feminist criticism that Eric saves Ariel, they have reworked the ending so that Ariel saves herself and her impotent father, but it is very weak and reminiscent of Mary Poppins ridding the Banks household of Miss Andrew. I understand why they did it based on criticisms of the film, but a story where the main character physically alters her body to pursue a man, and gives up her voice for the chance to make him love her, does a token feminist nod mean ANYTHING? Ill-conceived, though a ship's bow disembowelment might have proved harder to stage. Also missing, obviously, is the shark chase at the beginning.

I was sitting with a group of friends, one of whom, ironically, was one of Ariel's animators (among others, he did the scene where she thrusts out of the water and flings her hair back...a scene which is in the play!) What was very apparent to all of us was that this show is not for the "theater crowd"...this show is for the family sitting behind us who sang all the words and talked throughout the show. They bought their daughter the t-shirt during the intermission and kicked our chairs in excitement as they relayed all the punchlines before the actors delivered them. This is mass-market, soccermom entertainment. This is the Spiderman sequel that doesn't live up to it's predecessor but you still go.
Disney will make a fortune off of this and criticism be damned. I think they gave up on it being art long ago. They got me to go once...with 3 friends...that's all they need or want.

PS. One purely Disney moment was when the castle staff first enter. The maids (mer-sisters in their other roles) bounce in with these pompom puffy skirts. It was Disney animation LIVE on stage...brief detail...magical...perfect.


Thanks for the post Bill, however depressing it may be. I had actually thought about flying out to NYC to see this one. I'll have to pass I guess. Bill, I can't remember, did you like Mary Poppins? The reviews by Disney fans have been a bit mixed but I saw the London production and enjoyed it quite a bit overall with a few quibbles along the way.



Thanks for the review bill! I wouldn't be able to see it except on tour.

I was just re-reading the review, how was the music? You didn't talk about that much and even if I don't see the show I would still like the CD. I really liked Mary Poppins and most of Tarzan. ;D
I just got home a little while ago from seeing "Mary Poppins" today. I really enjoyed the show with the exception of the weird, creepy statues dancing in the "Jolly Holiday" number and the "Temper, Temper" number which was TOTALLY unnecessary and bizarre. Ashley Brown was SENSATIONAL as Poppins and Gavin Lee's (Bert) replacement for the performance, Matt Loehr was excellent. While an excellent show, I still feel "Beauty and the Beast" was the best Disney broadway show I've seen to date.


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Yeah, I think it's hard to translate a film to Brodway. I saw Legally Blonde on Broadway, and really wished I had stayed home and watched the movie instead!

As for Mary Poppins, I feel the same way Bill does about it. I actually liked some of the book elements, but some didn't quite work. Also, it was MUCH more episodic than the film, which I felt it suffered for. Especially since some of the "lessons" Mary teaches the kids have way too fast conclusions.

I still want to see the Little Mermaid, but I've heard similar reviews to Bill's. I think Disney has said they don't care what critics say, because it really IS aimed at the stroller set. People will flock to see it just because it's Ariel on stage. Maybe they'll tweak things as they go, but I don't expect huge changes. That said, I still want to see it for myself. I just hope when I see it, the sets don't break like they did on Mary Poppins. It was strange when it happened then, because it stopped the show cold, and we all had to go home. The strangest part was that the show broke in London on the same night, and in the same spot! We got rain checks, and went to see the show again later...and the sets were fine.


Well, Disney is not really embracing the "multiple recordings of the same show in the same language"-concept anymore. I assume they think that the number of fans who would buy several recordings is not enough to offset the extra costs of recording multiple versions in the first place - in other words: profit maximizing.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast still got numerous recordings in English - without looking it up I remember at least the Broadway, the WestEnd and the Australia recordings of the stage musical in English. But already with The Lion King this was reduced. Even so the show is running and running and running in the WestEnd ?they never produced a recording.




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This is true, and I'm guessing with Mary Poppins, they don't care because the London cast sounds British...because they are! The show takes place in London, so why not keep the same cast recording? It would be nice tradition to release multiple cast albums, but I can see why Disney didn't. It's a shame though, when things like Beauty and the Beast get new songs, that they aren't released on CD.

I guess Disney isn't the only one not releasing Broadway versions. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also never released one, and sold only the London cast recording.