Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Little Mermaid—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

The Magical, Misfit Mermaid

This original musical is adapted for the stage by Milo Mowery and Rodolfo Ortega, directed by John Ellingson, choreography by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT Artistic Director) in partnership with A-WOL Dance Collective, Heather Shrock and Alicia Doerrie, and musical direction by Ortega.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., through May 25th.  For more information, go to their site(s) at www.nwcts.org or www.awoldance.org

The original story by Hans Christian Andersen was made into a very popular Disney, animated musical a few years back.  It takes place under the sea and, in this incarnation, in Havana, Cuba, too.  The story’s narration (Sophie MacKay) tells of a sort of ugly duckling mermaid called Ariel (Annie Willis), who doesn’t fit in with her peers, sister mermaids, Melody (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), Minuette (Maddy Ross) and Aria (Signe Larsen).  They have beautiful, ballet moves and lovely, singing voices, while Ariel’s voice sounds like a mad hen and her movements jerk every which way but loose.

But, at least, she has a bosom friend in Hippos (Gracie Jacobson), the Sea Horse, who listens to her and teaches her how to play.  But the main purpose of mermaids, according to legend, is to enchant sailors with their mesmerizing voices, so that they will shipwreck on the rocks.  (Why they have a need to do this is unclear.)  But Ariel even fails at this, as she rescues one of the seamen, who is actually a Cuban prince, Miguel (Brendan Long).  And, like in all good fairy tales, she is immediately smitten by him, and longs to become human so she can be with him.

But, easier said than done, as she must go to the unscrupulous Cecelia (Jenny Bunce), the Sea Witch, in order to get her wish fulfilled.  But this demanding diva has conditions of her own.  Ariel can be transformed into a land-lubber to be with her love for two days.  If, by the end of this time, he has not kissed her, than she must return to the sea and forfeit her soul.  And she is to be mute, having her voice taken away, so that she cannot tell the Prince who she is or express her love for him.  The contract is agreed to but Cecelia has her own devious plans to thwart the little mermaid….

To tell more would be giving away some plot devices, so I will stop the story at this point.  One unique thing about this adaptation is that neither of the young lovers are the sharpest swordfish in the ocean.  Miguel is rather vain, none too bright and is use to getting his own way.  Ariel has a good heart but is awkward in social situations and is easily duped by dishonest hags.  In this interpretation, they become much more human and, thereby, identifiable to the common man.

Another outstanding aspect to this production are the aerial artists (Kelsie Young, Lacey McGraw and Paulina Muñoz).  Watching them perform their “flying” maneuvers are worth the whole show.  They are absolutely amazing.  And a third element that gives this show a boost is the Sea Witch puppet, designed by Ellingson.  It is probably my favorite creation from all the shows I’ve reviewed here, scary, silly and intricate in its conception and performance.

The performers are all first-rate.  Willis gives us the ungainly teen striving to find her place in the world and doing it convincingly.  Mackay is clear and concise and portrays the story interestingly for us.  Jacobson has a great voice and you want to hug her for being such a true friend.  And Bunce, as the Witch, is truly talented, both in voice and acting.  She is the villain you love to hate.  I’ve reviewed her before and given her high marks.  She is easily up to that standard here and I look forward to seeing her in her next project.

Hardy is always first-rate with her dance numbers, as she is here.  Mary Rochon has outdone herself with the very colorful and fanciful costumes.  And Ellingson is always at the top of his game as a director, designer, as he is here, and actor.  And, as mention, Shrock and Doerrie, and their performers, are exciting to watch, bringing back good memories of going to a circus when I was a child.

Although the songs and music by Ortega and Mowery are pleasant and well performed, they fall slightly short of being memorable.  And the story, likewise, does not have the intricacies that other pieces NWCT has done.  The story seems a little too simple to be, although mildly entertaining, not really thought-provoking, as other productions they’ve done.  Even the applause for numbers was polite but not roaringly enthusiastic, as I’ve heard from other shows.

I would recommend this show.  But, be warned, parking in this area is a real problem, so plan accordingly or best use public transportation, be dropped off, and/or car pool.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.