Theater Under the Stars’ THE LITTLE MERMAID is a timeless tale brimming with talent
It’s vacation time in Houston, and that means big, bold and festive shows all season long! As such, LA PETITE SIRÈNE has arrived at the Theater under the stars! With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a book by Doug Wright, this production does justice to your favorite childhood movie and more.
Oh, to be back in the theater. The novelty has not yet faded. Is there anything better than sitting in the dark respectful of the audience, listening to the opening as you settle into a story? (The answer is no. Bring openings everywhere.) So begins THE LITTLE MERMAID, and from there, it’s full speed!
For starters, this casting is no joke. You have Delphi Borich (certified Disney Princess in real life) returning to the TUTS stage, this time as Ariel. Then there’s Noah J. Ricketts as Prince Eric, bringing depth and affection to the royal archetype (with a voice like butter, I might add). In legs, the show-woman Carla Woods, commanding the scene as Sebastian and sporting one of my favorite costumes of all time of the night. Top it off with Christopher Tipps as Scuttle with loot, Mark Ivy as Chef Louis, and Christina Wells as villainous Ursula – and you’ve got a SHOW. I would happily pay to watch this crowd shopping on the weekends at Trader Joe’s and they would still make it a knockout.
Not to mention the lively ensemble that completes the scene with all kinds of underwater life courtesy of students from two TUTS schools, The Humphrey’s School of Musical Theater and The River. Young talent Lia Zitvar (Flounder) blew me away in the number “She’s In Love”, and I always love to spot the smiles of recurring TUTS students on stage.
As expected, “Under the Sea” blows everything out of the water. This oceanic parade is an ode to the sharp talent of the costume team (Vincent Seasselati, Kenneth Burrell and Colleen Grady). I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but it’s a delight from start to finish. “Kiss the Girl,” directed by Carla Woods’ Sebastian, is another unforgettable moment. The two numbers were a kaleidoscope of colors, movements, textures and sounds. All the best parts of the theater wrapped in a bow. And yes, I cried. Because the theater.
The artistry of choreographer Harrison Guy shone in “One Step Closer”, as Prince Eric and Ariel moved around the ballroom with both playfulness and poise. It was an unexpected number for me; I could have watched them dance while John Cornelius conducted the orchestra for an hour and called it a night.
Magical moments aside, this show has its challenges because, well, audiences are supposed to believe the characters are underwater half the time. I’ve seen it done in different ways: rollerblading or heels, an emphasis on continuous fluid motion, and so on. It’s hard to say if there really is a way to fully accomplish it, or if it should even be the goal, but the intentionally atmospheric approach to this production pays off. Creating a believable underwater world is indeed a challenge, but one that lighting designers Charlie Morrison and John Burkland confidently rise to alongside set designer Kenneth Foy, wig designer Kelley Jordan and projection designer. Caïte Hevner.
There is a together lots of things you can do with lighting and sound, and to showcase the underwater world built by Foy. Dressed head-to-toe in ready-made wigs and flamboyant fish-shaped clothing, this production could practically pass for a fashion show. TUTS adds a few tips here and there for some pretty clever mermaid moments under the direction of the art director, Dan Knechtges. Hevner’s ever-flowing projections also add a lot to the underwater illusion (watch out for an extra-fab moment of evil Ursula too!). Andrew Harper’s sound design was the icing on the cake, making the experience of each song even better.
If you are looking for a reason to attend, I will give you more than one. Come see Christina Wells slaying poor hapless souls and her mighty sea witch cackle echoing throughout the theater. Come for Mark Ivy as Chef Louis, being pure comedic gold as always. Come in for the unwavering comedic intensity of Carla Woods as Sebastian, putting stakes in every scene. Come experience the artistry of the design team, from wig designer Kelley Jordan’s electric Ursula and Ariel’s cascading red locks to the sparkling movement and intricacy of Foy’s stage design. Come on stage for the students of The River to have a blast (and bring your tissues while you’re at it).
If there is anything to criticize here, it is that you should always know which show you are entering. THE LITTLE MERMAID is still THE LITTLE MERMAID, and no amount of epic costumes or sentimentality will change that. If that’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. It’s going to be cheesy, because it’s Disney after all. But if you feel like putting your disbelief on hold for a night and being a kid again for a few hours, I recommend spending your evening here.
The Little Mermaid takes place December 7-24 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at just $ 40 and are available online at TUTS.com, or by contacting the TUTS ticket office by phone at (713) 558-8887 or in person by visiting the ticket office located at 800, rue Bagby.
All customers aged 12 and over will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination, at the customer’s discretion, and photo identification. Masks are mandatory for all customers and staff inside the Hobby Center.