As someone who was reared in the golden era of Disney, I stand out as one of the anomalies who has never seen The Little Mermaid. Part of this exclusion from the canon was my mother’s renouncing of any narrative that she perceived as outrightly endorsing a “princess/woman desperately seeking” message. But the primary contributing factor to my never going under the sea, as it were, was my visceral fear and hysterical outbursts as a child that would occur whenever someone would try to make me watch Mermaid and Ursula would appear on the screen. I could never get past it to have a meaningful viewing experience (or as significant of a viewing experience as a four-year-old can have).
Lo and behold, though, in Comtra Theatre’s recent production of The Little Mermaid, Ursula—played with ravishingly, sneering glee by Clay Glenny—not only stole the show but managed to enrapture me completely. Which is not to say the entire cast didn’t shimmer and shine with beautiful incandescence like one of Ariel’s pilfered nautical treasures. This is perhaps an aggressively trite sentiment to open with, but the cast of The Little Mermaid, as a multitalented, multifaceted ensemble, is above and beyond one of the most charming and effervescent group of actors I have watched in quite some time.
Every player—from the spellbinding duo of Victoria Buchtan as Ariel and Naomi Costanza as Flounder; to the hilariously charismatic Ryan Wagner as Scuttle—is resplendent with their own charm and dynamic group energy. More often than not, there is a noticeable dichotomy in the performance style when a cast takes on a venerated/beloved children’s classic—the performances are either abundantly “eager-beaver,” being a bit too cheeky and too over-the-top; or dulled to oblivion, besotted with a sort of begrudging “let’s do the kids show” air. The cast of Mermaid, however, is so incomparably delightful, imbuing each song and exchange with the perfect level of gleeful pomp and raw talent. No cast has been more ebullient, more flawless in their vocal performances and energetic stage presences. Their collective and individual performances, and the utterly enthralled and deeply connected reactions from the audience that they evoked were reminders that not only is there space for whimsical, blissful musicals and adaptations in today’s theatre, but there is a distinct joy in partaking in a superbly and authentically acted piece of theatre.
Mermaid, which adheres very religiously to the source material, is an overwhelmingly accessible and enjoyable production, except for the structural problems that arise with the stage limitations at Comtra. While the “in the round” style that Comtra strives for with the space they have to work with is wonderful conceptually, the structure of the space often disallows members of the audience to see certain players in a given scene and the full breadth of the action on stage. However, despite this, the stage production and costume work on Mermaid overcompensates for the limits of the space, and the bombastic elements of wardrobe and design are almost characters in and of themselves.
The Little Mermaid is a marvelously delightful instance of pure fun at the theatre that should not be missed. The cast and crew effortlessly adapt and perfects the original in such a way that leaves the audience feeling overjoyed and pleasantly impressed. I am thrilled my terror at Mermaid was officially drowned with this lively remake.
The Little Mermaid runs at Comtra Theatre in Cranberry through August 19. For tickets and more information, click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews