Serenbe Playhouse is currently presenting the musical “The Little Mermaid” outdoors at yet another of their lovely “site specific” locations, running through April 22.
Disney’s animated film version appeared in 1989, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale; there was a Broadway run starting in January 2008. The music is by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, book by Doug Wright. The production is directed by Ryan Oliveti, with music direction by Chris Brent Davis, and choreography by Bubba Carr.
This vibrant, colorful show is performed on a stage directly in front of a beautiful lake. Part of the fun of seeing a Serenbe show is discovering the exact location and marveling at the ingenuity and imagination it takes to make the stage’s location seem not only right, but inevitable. “Oh, of course they would choose this spot; it’s perfect!” One often hears such comments.
The theme of this year’s Playhouse shows is “Voyage”; and of course water is often closely related to that (the musical “Titanic” is coming). And in “The Little Mermaid” we naturally go “Under the Sea.”
You may know the basics of the story: Ariel, mermaid princess (Nikki Badua) is dissatisfied with her underwater life in the kingdom of Atlantica. Her father, King Triton (Derek Dixon) cannot understand her discontent. But Ariel asks a startling question (which is also a theme of the play): What if home is a place you have to discover and not just where you were born?
So even though contact between “merpeople” and humans is forbidden, Ariel has been making surreptitious trips to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle, a seagull (the irrepressible Austin Tijerina), who has limited knowledge of humans but boundless enthusiasm (naturally, he can fly).
And Ariel has also laid eyes on handsome Prince Eric (Chase Peacock), whom she rescues from drowning—but not before he hears her beautiful singing voice. It’s as if they have dreamed each other into existence. And it’s a dream for loyal Serenbe playgoers, for Ms. Badua and Mr. Peacock were the romantic leads in the magnificent “Miss Saigon” two seasons ago.
Meanwhile, Sebastian (the wonderful India Tyree), a crab who is Triton’s adviser, and Ariel’s pal Flounder (Kenny Tran) try to convince Ariel that life as the princess of Atlantica is a sweet deal, even with her jealous sisters and formidable, scheming aunt Ursula, a squid (Deb Bowman, in an extraordinary comic performance) lurking about.
I can’t tell you much more, except that Ariel really wishes to be human; and it’s time for Eric to choose a wife. And the wily Ursula tricks Ariel into making a deal to transform her into a human for three days in exchange for Ariel’s voice, which she puts into a nautilus shell. Ursula’s hencemen, two eels named Flotsam and Jetsam (Brian Jordan and Jordan Patrick), aid her in this.
This may sound complicated, but it all flows like the musical comedy dream it is, with great songs and super production numbers that rock the stage with vibrant color and fun. Mr. Davis’ musicians and Mr. Carr’s choreography are magical and keep the party flowing with seemingly effortless panache.
“The Little Mermaid” has a great cast: I wish I could single out more delightful moments that these talented performers give us—such as Chase Anderson’s charming Chef Louis in Act II’s “Les Poissons.”
Or every second that Deb Bowman is onstage, with her deliciously evil Ursula, insanely jealous of her brother’s Triton’s power, does her best to wreak havoc to all. Ms. Bowman, a peerless actress/singer, stalks the stage with a confidence and power that are almost frightening—and irresistible.
Austin Tijerina is a throwback to a select few movie stars of the 1930’s and 40’s who could and did do anything: act, sing, and dance with equal aplomb. The young Mickey Rooney or Gene Kelly come to mind. Mr. Tijerina simply comes alive onstage, with an almost frenetic energy. He mesmerizes.
Ms. Badua and Mr. Peacock are still seductive, with beautiful voices and enormous charm. And Derek Dixon as Ariel’s largely imperturbable dad, easily holds his own with a very pleasant voice and plenty of stage savvy.
Brooke Bradley, Brady Dunn, Brittany Ellis, Arielle Geller, Timothy Harland, Kendra Johnson, Casey Shuler, Terry Smith (a fine Grimsby), and Madison Welch complete this stellar cast.
Serenbe Playhouse is once again throwing down the gauntlet as Atlanta’s most unpredictable, exciting theatre. Kudos to Director Ryan Oliveti for guiding this very large production.
I would remind you that it is spring, not summer, and the nights can be very cool. Bring a wrap. And don’t miss this delightful “Mermaid”; she may not swim your way again.
For tickets and information, visit serenbeplayhouse.com.