COMPLETE THE SUMMER WITH ARIEL AND
HER UNDERWATER FRIENDS
It is a summer of underwater hits, SPONGEBOB is breaking box office records, and is about to tour the US. at Tri-Valley’s Disney's ultimate fish-out-of-water family musical, THE LITTLE MERMAID is delighting East Bay audiences. The Tri-Valley closes out their successful 2018 season with Disney’s classic MERMAID featuring a score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, now underwater at the Bankhead stage through August 5th. 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.
Directed by the clever Brian Olkowski, he brings a talented keen cast to craft THE LITTLE MERMAID, Disney's version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale. Music director Sierra Dee holds down a wonderful eight member orchestra and keeps her cast polished. Staging a musical that takes place at least half of the time underwater has to be a challenge. Olkowsk brings his 38 member talented ensemble that includes children an impressive charm, color and comedy. He provides inventive flight for three of the leads that gives the two and half hour show eye catching magic . The only downside to the upstage fly system is that much of the show takes place at the rear of the large stage. When the action moves down stage the feel for the show was less cold. Set designer/ builder Stewart Lyle, captures that underwater kingdom feel along with the Prince Eric's ship and the palace in the second Act..
Ariel, the rebellious teen mermaid, played by the pitch perfect Katherine Dela Cruz opens the show with the awesome “The World Above”. Dela Cruz proves her elegant voice in the hit pop song “Part Of Your World”; her voice soares across the Livermore stage. Her sidekick admirer, Flounder, played by the cute pixie Delaney Corbitt gives Flounder both an innocent sweetness as she did her best to stay on top of her skate shoes. Director Olkowski cleverly cast a girl to play the little teen fish (usually played by a boy). Flounder as in the original film and Broadway story still flirts with her wonderful Ariel, truly a diverse theme, that worked so well in “She’s in Love” song by Corbitt and the other mermaids.
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 evilly wicked perfect by Annemarie Martin. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is funny and evil and Martin has that special likable evil to bring the old octopus alive. Her two clever and swank sidekick water snakes Jetsam and Flotsam are played by the slimy Arsalan Kahn and Darrien Cabreana and both are an evil delight using hand puppets created by Michelle Roque.
Ariel is surrounded by six Mersisters, besides Flounder, there is Sebastian the calypso crab. The red hero is heart of the show, played by John Rachal who was a bit off opening night. He sings the classic “Under The Sea” with the cast, choreographed by Catherine Delos Santos and Joren Reyes. The full 38 member cast is all on stage busy in the dance number that brought the opening night audience to cheers.
Ariel's father, King Triton, is played by the bold Matthew Kelly who eventually yields to the independence of the strong-willed daughter he loves very much. Kelly has an ideal voice in “If Only” and Prince Eric played by dapper Dominic Tracy, is the young mermaid's love interest. Dela Cruz and Tracy make the perfect Disney couple as they search for each other. Tracy has a likable voice in his solo “Her Voice” he is pitch perfect as the Prince. Local favorite, Joshua Gonzalez, fusses charmingly as Eric’s tutor, Grimsby, constantly reminding him that he has duties to live up to. Gonzalez is foolproof and always superb on stage.
Standouts of in the company are the lovable Matthew Skinner as the marvelous, flying seagull Scuttle who opens the second act with the show stopping “Positoovity” with a cast of gulls and other fish including the full throttle Heidi Amstrup, Alise Bradford, JD Cerruti, Mike Cerruti, Hannah Conner, Gwynn Cristobal, Ben Feldman. The clever Jordan Smith steals the second act in a brief but intensely memorable song “Les Poissons” as Chef Louis preparing a table-full of seafood dishes as worried Sebastian waits to be boiled alive.
The cast of colorful mermaids and other sea creatures including the eager Allie Villa, Jenny Hudson, Michelle Rogue, Veronica Van Avermaete, Tiffany To, Sabrina Gottieb as the Mersisters. Costumed in a rainbow of pride that was the subtext for a sweet theme in the underwater world Olkowki created. The cute Wayward and Leeward are played by the delightful Emily Kessel and Emma Kelly. The Disney songs are all first rate: “One Step Closer,” “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams,” 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.
The craft team for this underwater fun included wig designer, Lexie LaZear, who is creative with Ariels red hair and the smokey excitement for Ursula's terrorizing second act antics. Sound designer Brendan West provides nicely varied and functional sounds for the show with many layers and of course many splashes. Back stage wizards Joan Brown, Debbie Shelley and Mary Kay Stevenson, help create the many props and sparkle of the show.
Assistant director Jess Hutchins wrangled the six member youth ensemble and stage manager AJ Amstrup kept the large cast on cue. Prop masters Joan Brown and Jeannie Jennings had to pull out all her props to create Ariel’s treasure trove of sparkly human trinkets she collectes. The cast also includes; Taylor Hendricks, Katherine Mathers, Will Mattingly, Austin Naylor, Jenna van Ommeren, and Amit Wason as assorted sea creatures and land lubbers.
Delos Santos’ and Reyes' dance numbers are fun and busy, and full of energy in "She's in Love" and "Under the Sea" not too campy and full of spirit. Local favorite Liz Martin is back with colorful costumes highlighted by Grimsby’s, Scuttle’s, and Arista’s full fun Disney perfect look. Paul Vega’s light design includes some rich underwater effects and producer Kathleen Breedveld brought in “Flying by Foy” from Las Vegas to fly Ariel, Prince Eric and Scuttle. As the story ends Flounder has moved on and we see her close with one of the Mersisters, adorable and that “Tri Valley edge”. This production of THE LITTLE MERMAID features a talented cast, as well as fine direction, dances, and design. Tri Valley announced their 2019 season that includes THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT . But in the meantime complete the summer with Ariel, Scuttle, Sebastian and their friends.
Tri Valley Rep presents
THE LITTLE MERMAID
Book by Doug Wright, Music by Alan Menken,
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Based on the Disney Film
Producer Kathleen Breedveld,
Directed by Brian Olkowski, Music Director Sierra Dee,
Choreographers Cathrine Delos Santos and Joren Reyes
Must Close August 5th
Bankhead Theatre, Livermore Ca
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; one intermission
photos by Robert Sholty
Julianne Hudson, Samantha Leber, Kira Reyes, Akash Wason, Keira Weir, Amy Yang