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Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater
Book by Doug Wright
Based on Hans Christian Andersen story and the Disney film
Produced by Howard Ashman & John Musker
And written & directed by John Musker & Ron Clements
Originally Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions

Plaza Theatre Company

Directors: Jodie and Soni Barrus
Music Director: Soni Barrus
Choreographer: Nicole Wheat
Stage Manager: RuthAnn Warwick
Costume Design: Tina Barrus
Makeup Design: Maria Bautista
Makeup and Wig Artists; McKenna Meachem, Michelle Cawood, Katrina Sellens
Light Design: Cameron Barrus
Sound Design: G. Aaron Siler
Set Design: Jodie, Soni, and JaceSon P. Barrus
Set Construction: JaceSon P. Barrus, Mel Diyer, Parker Barrus, Jodie Barrus
Scenic Painting: Julie Asher Lee
Props: Soni Barrus
Electronic Props: William Young
Specialty Props: Gene & Roberta Young, Deb & Mark Dandridge, Amy Skinner, Rachel Bond

(Some parts are doubled. Listed is the cast seen on the night of the review)
NATE MILSON (Prince Eric)
MATT VICTORY (Sebastian)
JOEL LAGRONE (King Triton)
G. AARON SILER (Chef Louis)
JAY A. CORNILS (Grimsby)
SAM TARRON (Flotsam)

Mersisters: Katherine Anthony, Mary Smith, Braiden Nesbit, Rachel Daniels, McKenna Meacham, Emma Dalley, Madison Heaps

Scuttle Dancers: Lena Moralez, Rylee Mullen, Eden Barrus, Marissa Wheat, Mimi Barrus, McLaine Meacham, Grace Dalley, Maddie Almond, Anna Looney

Julia Wood, Kaitlin Howard, Hunter Patrick, Hannah Nickerson, Lily McClendon, Rodney Hudson, Jacob Rebfroe

Reviewed Performance: 2/3/2017

Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Beautiful mermaid Ariel is a passionate, headstrong teenager who wants what she cannot have - to live on land. When she falls in love with a handsome human prince, Ariel bargains with the Sea Witch for the chance to meet him - by giving up her voice in exchange for legs. Based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale this musical staging features all of the music and characters of the wildly popular Disney musical.

Once upon a time the slew of Disney Theatricals all had happily ever after endings. Nowadays? Not so much. The Little Mermaid based on the 1989 animated film had a resurrection as a stage musical 20 years later for a one year run on Broadway. It continues to make the rounds of tours and community theaters because it is a beloved story with a charming musical score. But while some adults may find "The Little Mermaid" a bit shallow, the children who made up a significant percentage of the audience at Friday Evening’s opening were clearly fascinated by a story they've no doubt watched repeatedly at home and were willing to dive in.

Plaza Theatre Company has assembled a fine cast of singers and dancers, and they showcase what is "The Little Mermaid's" greatest strength: the wonderful tunes of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater that Disney packed into an animated version of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale from 1836.

Turning an animated film into a stage production is a huge challenge, and Disney's "The Little Mermaid" has the added complication of largely being set underwater with characters that are mostly …underwater. Swimming, singing and being… underwater. In this small theater in the round setting this is problem solving that is resolved with creativity vs. technology. There are no waves or wave affects in Cleburne, but floaty arm and body movements, bright and clever costumes, were in abundance.

The score is filled out with a number of additional songs composed by Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and most of these numbers integrate well with the originals, further expanding the score’s eclectic mix with girl-group harmonies (the mersisters’ “She’s in Love”), cabaret (Ursula’s “Daddy’s Little Angel”) and the requisite ballad (“If Only,” which eventually blossoms into a lovely quartet for Ariel, Sebastian, Triton and Prince Eric).

At the head of the class, of course, is that little mermaid herself, Ariel, youngest daughter of undersea monarch King Triton. Ariel is fascinated by the surface world, often sneaking off to watch land dwellers, as noted in the lush opening song, "The World Above."

The role of Ariel is taken by Emma Colwell, a charming, diminutive young woman who looks rocks the signature in long orange tresses and possess a clear, lilting voice that sounds perfect on some of the show's other signature songs, including "Part of Your World" and "If Only (Ariel's Lament)." Colwell, looks like she was lifted straight from the Disney film, so perfectly does she embody Ariel. She has an easy on-stage charm that works on children and adults alike, and exhibits strong romantic chemistry with co-star Nate Milson, who portrays hunky two-legged Prince Eric.

Speaking of handsome princes… Milson, is an exceptional leading man in looks, demeanor and voice. It is one of the finest voices I have heard in Community Theater. His voice could charm the shell off of a sea turtle.

Sebastian (Matt Victory), the Jiminy Crickett-like crab who is Ariel’s scolding sidekick, struggles to retains his trademark Caribbean accent but does a mean side step that entertains. Victory is a bit less frantic and charismatic than his animated counterpart but he manages to recreate the role with a lot of old school winsome charm that endears.

Seagull Scuttle (Nolan Moralez, doing an almost dead-on Nathan Lane) is an energy machine, and there’s a gleeful burst of slapstick with the arrival of pompous Chef Louis (G. Aaron Siler) and his associates, who are no match for Sebastian’s claws. Siler was stellar with his comedic and culinary timing, outstanding physicality and atomic energy.

Plaza Theater did some wonderful casting- physically so many of the characters were a great match for their 1989 animated counterparts. King Triton (Joel Lagrone) with his long flowing mane, towering presence, booming voice and body suit muscles is a case in point. This is one of many examples of the beautiful costuming that the Company is well known for. Costume Designer Tina Barrus is an artist and it shows.

Ursula in all of her dark hypnotic wonder was an amazing visual. Costumed in a hoop skirt of epic proportions with tentacles that covered most of the stage, Kourtney Leigh Harris, made quite a foreboding presence. Harris was both charming and loathsome as the dark monarch of the sea. The Olympian vocals of Ursula were at times a challenge for the talented actress. The musical score and the role of Ursula and Flounder both demand a lot of belting which is a balancing act for most musical theatre singers. Sidekicks Flotsam and Jetsam brought a delightful evil charm to the stage- especially in their well-crafted duet, “Sweet Child”.

Flounder (Henry Cawood) was endearing in his devotion and loyalty to Ariel. Cawood is an upcoming young performer who works very hard at his craft. He moves and sings very well and is an incredibly focused performer on stage. He is always listening, always in character and always engaging.

This opening night had a few rough edges that were minimally distracting. In an intimate space like the Plaza this is not critical. However, sound cues for mics were late or slow. Mics were missing on two of the mersisters- or not assigned. Balance between the voices and the track were inconsistent. Given the excellence of other productions I do not expect this to occur throughout the run.

The ensemble numbers were beautifully staged with colorful, creative costumes and accessible, engaging choreography from Nicole Wheat. Wheat showcased her tappers in a lively and engaging seagull number "Positoovity" with again- exceptional costumes by Tina Barrus. The vocals in a few of the ensemble were top heavy- with a plethora of sopranos and very little balance from the men and altos. There was also a few precarious moments in the “If Only” quartet where it appeared that both Prince Eric and King Triton might be swept away to sea. Fortunately, all survived.

The set design and murals were well edited for the small space. There were significant sight line problems with the “shore” in Act 1. Ariel comes up to the surface in a corner of the theater playing space which is not visible to much of the house- particularly when the actors are staged on the floor- i.e. a Mermaid laying out in the sand. Many of the visuals of the scenes were lost to a large percentage of the house.

The Little Mermaid is a busy, fast-paced and easy production to enjoy. Each act runs about 50+ minutes. The audience and I thoroughly enjoyed the music, the characters and creativity that fills the Plaza Theatre. The show is charming and keep your eyes out for some surprises on stage (I didn’t mention many of them). Many shows are already sold out so dive in and enjoy the Little Mermaid.

Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main St. Cleburne, TX 76033

Ticket Prices:
Adults - $18
Seniors (65+) - $16
Students (HS and College) - $16
Children (12 and under) - $13
Group rates available for ten or more
Show Times are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30PM and Saturday Matinee at 3PM
Show runs thru March 4, 2017. Many shows are SOLD OUT.