I have to admit I found the production rather vulgar — not in a sexual way, though the subtext of the show could be translated vulgarly if one took it on semiotically. The sets, which centered on a couple of giant plastic totem-like structures with tentacle-like parts that kept changing them and making them suitable for either a fairytale castle or an undersea world were too monstrously pastel for my tastes and too ingeniously constructed. It was like watching two transgendered Transformers. At times — though acid is one of the few drugs I’ve never sampled — I felt as if I had taken some LSD popped into my mouth from a Pez Dispenser.
For those of you not familiar with the story of the Disney animated movie on which this Broadway musical is based, it concerns Ariel’s desire to, yes, transform herself from a mermaid into a human in order to live a married life with the land-bound prince she saves from drowning. She magically trades her mermaid’s tale for a pair of legs — a moral that one should change oneself in order to marry the man one loves that I found rather retrograde but caused screams and tears of approval all around me.
The cast offers a bland professionalism. As Ariel, Sierra Boggess, sings sweetly and looks swell in all her costumes. As Prince Eric, handsome Sean Palmer, looks even sweller — a swell being the operative term — in his. As the seagull Scuttle, Eddie Korbich, and the crab, Sebastian, Titus Burgess, offer expert comic relief, as does Sherie Rene Scott as Ariel’s wicked aunt, Ursula, and her henchman, the electric eels, Flotsam, Tyler Maynard, and Jetsam, Derrick Baskin. But the two numbers that brought the house down the night I saw the production were performed by Flounder, Brian D’Addario (who’s giving the evening best performance) and Chef Louis, who is portrayed by John Treacy Egan.
The original songs by Alan Menken from the movie, with their lyrics by Howard Ashman, who died of complications from AIDS at the age of 40 in 1991, are of a higher and wittier quality than the ones added for the Broadway version. Doug Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play I Am My Own Wife and wrote the book for last season’s hit musical, Grey Gardens, has fashioned a pun-laden book for this one. Francesca Zambello, the acclaimed director of opera and theatre and winner of many awards, does not have a deft touch where Disney is concerned. And those sets by George Tsypin, an architect and sculptor who has worked for opera houses throughout the world, seem over-the-top and yet condescending to the Broadway audience at the same time — a neat trick in-and-of-itself I guess. And since most of the leads are on some sort of roller skates to mimic the movements of water creatures, the choreography of Stephen Mear can’t help but be a bit labored. Watching them roll along the stage, I just kept longing to be back watching Xanadu.
I don’t mean to sound too crotchety about the production. Indeed, if you’d like to be an ideal Auntie or Uncle Mame and give your young nieces — and a certain type of young nephew of which I admittedly was — a thrilling first Broadway experience, then take them to see this production. Just be warned, you might be rolling your eyes as the cast keeps rolling from scene to scene to endless scene before the final curtain.
T 1/2 (out of 4 possible T’s)
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