GO UNDER THE SEA WITH THE PALO ALTO PLAYERS’ 86TH SEASON OPENER ‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’
ARIEL AND HER UNDERWATER FRIENDS WILL ENCHANT YOU, EVEN EVIL URSULA WILL STEAL YOUR HEART.
The full of joy Disney’s The Mermaid has arrived to open the 86th season of the Palo Alto Players. Disney's ultimate fish-out-of-water family musical, THE LITTLE MERMAID is delighting South Bay audiences this fall. The teen Red haired MERMAID is now underwater at the Lucie Stern Theatre through October 2nd. Featuring a score by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright. This high energy and visually stunning fish tank is a must see. The infamous fish FINDING DORY may have stolen your hearts this summer, but “live” this fall in Palo Alto this adorable cast will do the same to sell out audiences at the Lucie Stern. “The theme, which is essentially about live theatre embracing its Hollywood cousin - I’m thrilled - as we celebrate the marriage between stage and screen” says PAP Artistic Director, Patrick Klein. He has called on the accomplished Janie Scott to direct and choreograph. “I love to work on shows that provide challenges and a playground for me to work - the staff at PAP have provided me with just that setting to bring my vision of this story to life” says Scott.
The movie was released in 1989, and the musical premiered on Broadway in 2007 for a successful run that lasted over a year to sold out audiences. Director Scott brings a diverse talented keen cast to craft THE LITTLE MERMAID, Disney's version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale. Music director, Lauren F. Bevilacqua, leads a wonderful eleven member orchestra that is backstage so the orchestra pit can be used for the sea of fish and surprises. Staging a musical that takes place at least half of the time underwater has to be a challenge. Artistic Director and set designer, Patrick Klein, has created a marvelous experience including using the orchestra pit for part of his undersea world and the side balcony for the ship. Scott brings her 22 member talented ensemble to impressive charm and comedy with this family classic musical. She provides inventive and wonderful movement that opens up to the audience and conveys the humor of the piece well. It is visually stunning, Klein's set captures that colorful underwater kingdom atmosphere in remarkable ways with deep blues, satin drapes, and a full sailing ship that opens into the Lucie Stern theatre.
Ariel, the rebellious teen mermaid played by the exceptional capable Cheyenne Wells and her sidekick admirer, Flounder, played by the cute pixie and talented Drew Hope. Wells gives Ariel both an innocent sweetness and a grand voice that makes the musical worth watching. Wells adds the tender emotional connections of the character in her opening song “The World Above”. Miss Well’s voice is a show stopper in “Part of Your World” and “Part of Your World (Reprise)”. Flounder as in the original film and Broadway story still flirts with her wonderful Ariel. Drew Hope brings so much energy to the young teen guppie and it works so well in his song “She’s in Love” sung with the Mersisters. Drew has a keen voice and is endearing in his role as the frisky, adorable Flounder. He keeps his character vulnerable as we meet the other creatures under the sea or the buddy birds that look over Ariel.
The standout of the evening is the enthusiastic Kevin Redrico as the captivating, marvelous, hip hop dancing seagull, Scuttle. Redrico opens the second act with the show stopping “Positoovity” with a cast of gulls and other fish including Christopher Crosby Cruz, Dario Johnson, Michael Cai, Jason Mooney and Zendrex Llado. Kevin shines in the role of the squawking Scuttle easily stealing the scenes and making the audience only wanting more in this two hour and half hour show. His performance is highlighted by the FOY fly team that not only gives flight to Scuttle, but Ariel and the Prince as well. I want to mention the foolproof fly team Amira Allawi, Michael Kitaigorodsky, Grady Sanders, and Will Schroeter who gave the production that visual delight.
Doug Wright's book follows Ariel who wants to walk on land to meet her prince and is given the opportunity to do so through a devilish deal made with the sea witch, Ursula, played so wickedly perfect by the sumptuous Kristen Hermosilio. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” is funny and evil and Hermosilio has that special villainous yet likable quality to bring the old octopus alive.
I have seen MERMAID a few times on Bay Area stages and this octopus was the most impressive, awesome monster I have seen. It is probably my favorite creation from all the shows I’ve reviewed, scary, silly ,and intricate in its conception and performance. Designed and constructed by Will and Rudy Schroeter and costumed by Ashley Grambow, it took two cast members Chris Cruz and Zen Llado to operate the purple beast. The opening night sold out crowd applauded her entrance, and her two sidekicks slimy eels Flotsam and Jetsam played by the local favorites Jepoy Ramos and Joshua C. Lau. They are evil and lovable henchmen and both their polished voices make “Sweet Child” memorable.
Ariel is surrounded by six jealous Mersisters besides Flounder, and there is Sebastian, the calypso crab, the heart of the show played by the captivating Daniel Lloyd Pias. Dressed in red, Pias sings the classic “Under The Sea” with the cast, and it is a show stopper choreographed by Scott and Zen Llado. She used the entire company and Lucie Stern space in grand form as the show expands to the audience.
Pias as the red crab has a superb voice and a sizzling presence on stage, that inspires you to dance in your seat. Another terrific number is “Kiss The Girl” where Pias brings his frisky Sebastian to orchestrate the romantic scene between Ariel and Eric along with Redrico and the cast of other sea animals. Both Pias and Redrico bring a sharp energy to each of their on stage appearances and Kevin seemed to have the most fun flying across the underwater set.
Ariel's father, King Triton, is played by the dynamic Nick Mandracchia who eventually yields to the independence of the strong-willed daughter he loves very much. Mandracchia has an accomplished voice in “If Only” and Prince Eric played by the dapper Corey Miller is the young mermaid's love interest. Wells and Corey make the perfect Disney couple as they search for each other. Miller has a likable voice in his solo “Her Voice” he is very charming as the young Prince and plays the awkward royalty with class. Miller’s solo numbers “One Step Closer” and “Her Voice” are nuanced and fully realised. The veteran actor, Vic Prosak, fusses charmingly as Eric’s tutor Grimsby, constantly reminding him that he has duties to live up to. Prosak is low key in the role and always elegant on stage as he defends his Prince. The hilarious Joey McDaniel is in a brief but intensely unforgettable bit as Chef Louis preparing a table full of seafood dishes as worried Sebastian waits to be boiled alive. The entire ensemble joins in another evocative, large dance number “Les Poissons” that keeps you guessing if Sebastian will make it to the curtain call.
The cast of colorful mermaids and other sea creatures include Sarah Bylsma, Lillian Garcia-Kautz, Jennifer Gorgulho, Katie Mazon, Smita Patibanda and Danielle Williams as the Mersisters. Dressed in a rainbow of color, Grambow’s magical costumes are rich with personality and character. I was not comfortable with the wigs on the men, they seemed to distract me on the ship's crew, but Ariel’s beautiful red wig prepared by Christine Ormseth, is perfect. The Disney songs are all marvelous: “The Contest” “Storm at Sea” and “If Only,” among others. These works by Menken and Ashman set the tone for the modern Disney girl power theme that has brightened so many of the new films and stage shows, only a hint that Dory will bring her own company to a Broadway stage soon. There are other assorted sea creatures and land lubbers for musical and comedic support, in a busy cast of 22 and many impressive visual effects. Musical Director Lauren F. Bevilacqua and her eleven member orchestra energizes the pace of the show and pops the songs of the talented cast and Disney favorites.
The craft team for this underwater fun included lighting designer, Edward Hunter. His work is creative and features a number of fun effects, deep blues and smokey excitement for Ursula's terrorizing second act antics and jellyfish umbrellas that light up. Nick Kumamoto’s effect of keeping the stage underwater with his scenic projections, including taking us inside the Palace. Sound designer, Grant Huberty, provides a scary storm that destroys the ship and varied sounds and of course many splashes. Ting Na Wang had to pull out all her props to create Ariel’s treasure inside giant conch shell trove of sparkly human trinkets she has collected including whozits and thingamabobs . Wang is also the creative mind behind the jellyfish and cute fish that pop up from the sea filled orchestra pit. Christine Ormseth make up for Flounder and Scuttle is well done especially for the young guppy. Scott’s and co-choreographer Zendrex Liado’s dance numbers are fun, busy, and full of energy while not being too campy in "She's in Love" and "Under the Sea". As the story ends Flounder approves of his crushs’ love for the Prince and a true Disney heartwarming ending brought the sold out crowd to a rousing standing ovation.
This production of THE LITTLE MERMAID features a remarkable cast and keen direction by Janie Scott, who grew up always wanting to play Sebastian. Scotts pace and creative spirit has brought this undersea world a remarkable magic and splash. It is time to join the other fish in the sea, complete the fall theatre season with Ariel, Scuttle, Sebastian and their friends. PAP continues their 86th season next up THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and later this season MONTY PYTHONS SPAMALOT. But in the meantime visit the under the sea glee of THE LITTLE MERMAID - it is a “Must See”.
Palo Alto Players Present
THE LITTLE MERMAID
Book by Doug Wright, Music by Alan Menken,
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Based on the Disney Film
Director and Choreographer Janie Scott,
Music Director Lauren F Bevilacqua,
Through: Oct 2, 2016
Lucie Stern Theatre 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto CA
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; one intermission
Tickets: 650.329.0891 or www.paplayers.org
Photo’s by Joyce Goldschmid