You’ll feel as if you’re a part of their world after watching the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s performance of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
And that’s a good thing. As the state’s largest non-profit professional theatre company that’s been around for a good 40 years, there’s no arguing that The Rep has developed some street cred. In fact, if you haven’t been lately, you need to check it out.
The performance brings childhood favorite Disney anthems to life, but don’t be afraid of it being a kid’s only event. There are elements meant for the adults too – hilarious tensions and other dynamics – making this a perfect show for the whole family. Plus, the talent and attention to detail in the final product is mind-blowing and enough to warrant a viewing on its own.
Director Melissa Rain Anderson creates a fantastical underwater paradise, strengthened by the elegant set design, choreography, music, and of course, the actors and actresses themselves. You absolutely have to give into the fun of this world which draws you in, even if you already know the plotline. There are additions that strengthen the show – like Ariel’s sisters and their presence throughout – among others.
You can’t help but root for young Ariel as she struggles to be independent in her feelings, yet sympathize with her protective father (and Sebastian), all the while feeling both repulsed and fascinated by Ursula.
When the curtain rises in the beginning, you’re immediately submerged into the set. The design was created by Set Designer Shoko Kambara and Resident Set Designer and Technical Director Mike Nichols. Thanks to the 3-D printing technology available at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, they were able to build extremely precise set pieces. Think abstract prosceniums and columns that point to underwater royalty. The ship and land scenes are also incredibly well done as a crew of sailors, Prince Eric included, seem to glide along the stage.
The costumes are vibrant and slightly mystical equipped with a movement on their own. Once you add in the choreography, everything felt as if it was propelled by waves in the underwater scenes. Plus, the use of aerial and circus arts added a great perspective on being under the sea that is unexpected.
Before you even see the set, you hear the music, a stronghold throughout the performance. It’s extremely well executed and you’re bound to leave with a few favorites stuck in your head – “Under The Sea,” “Part Of Your World,” “Kiss The Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
This show packs an incredible cast. I really enjoyed the dynamics between Ariel, Katie Emerson, and Ursula, Amy Jo Jackson. Emerson perfectly displays what it’s like to be part young woman and part child, defiantly independent and yet unsure. As a sea witch Ursula is both sexy, fierce and entirely horrifying in a relatable way as you watch her jealousy and obsession with power unfold.
For this reason “Poor Unfortunate Souls” almost stole the show, followed closely by the hilarious scene in which Sebastian is being chased by an eccentric French cook. The “Kiss The Girl” scene also can’t go unnoted, however. As Ariel and Eric glide around in a rowboat, you can’t miss tension between Sebastian’s attempts to help and the sea gull Scuttle’s. Ben Liebert’s screechy over-exaggerated portrayal of the bird is absolutely on-point.
That being said, you will be fully entertained throughout the program. The chorus is strong and there’s never a dull moment. I guarantee you’ll fall into an intimate state of awe watching the show as you only can at The Rep.