Community Theatre Review: The Players Club of Swarthmore’s The Little Mermaid doesn’t quite make the splash expected
The Players Club of Swarthmore’s production of Disney’sThe Little Mermaid is an overwhelming display of fanfare at times. While there are some very well executed parts of the show, it was difficult to focus on one part of a scene for an extended period of time. However, for those less prone to that distraction (like children), this would be a hugely fun show to watch.
The short synopsis from the PCS website: “In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner, Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World.”
Upon entering the building, there were beautiful paintings of sea creatures and sounds of the oceans that really helped to set the scene as the show was about to begin. Danielle Marone‘s Scuttle entertained the house with her opening speech and she continued to be fun and goofy throughout the performance. Unfortunately, as soon as she ran backstage, it was noticeable that the live orchestra was missing something. I am always a fan of live music over playing tracks and although the music sounded wonderful, it seemed that the entire brass section was missing. This made it tough to get the full effect, but the musicians are clearly talented.
In the opening scene, the children’s chorus looked adorable onstage with their makeshift waves. The fabrics used for the waves looked gorgeous and I’d love to have a big blanket that looks just like it! It seemed that the children were used a little bit too much in the show, crowding the stage at times. During “Under the Sea”, the cast was jammed like sardines into the downstage portion of the stage trying to dance. Although there was some great choreography, it was hindered by the lack of space, which was also due to the amount of set pieces. The set changes seemed to be never-ending throughout the show. They were very well designed with a modern flare, but there were just so many of them. My favorite set by Jolene Petrowski was during the destruction of Ariel’s Grotto because the pieces folded down to look like King Triton broke it apart. Another nice set design was the lighted boxes on either side of the stage that changed to match the scene.
One highlight of the show was at the beginning of “The Storm”, when Prince Eric is hurled into the crashing waves. Robert Roettger‘s lighting design mixed with Davida Weiler-Stone‘s sound made the scene really come to life and draw the audience into the storm. When it comes to costuming by Becky Wright and her team, they did a nearly perfect job. From Sebastian to the sea creatures, Ursula to the eels, and the seagulls to the sisters, each costume was a stellar interpretation of the individual characters. One particularly nice touch was lighting on the eel costumes to look like electric shock. It was subtle, but did not go unnoticed. The only costumes the missed the mark a bit were King Triton and Flounder. Triton looked like he had a few pieces of fabric thrown onto him as an afterthought and Flounder looked like Seuss’ Thing 1 & 2’s distant cousin.
The strongest dance number in the show was definitely “Positoovity.” The choreographic team of Emily Fishman, Maria C. Byers, and Ryan Stone (Director) had fun and flashy choreography throughout the show, but this song in particular was extremely well executed. The tapping seagulls had very fast and detailed steps to master and that is just what they did. They were very well in sync through the entire number and were highly comedic in their characterization. Another cast member that knocked it out of the park was Josh Atkinson. In his Main Stage debut, he epitomized Ursula’s sidekick Flotsam. He commanded attention with his creepy smile and jerky movements. Then there was Matthew Prince with a marvelous performance as Ariel’s friend Sebastian. He really knows how to draw in the audience and had a great voice. Jeffrey Barg (Chef Louis) was very comedic and had a lovely voice. His entire scene for “Les Poissons” was of the funniest in the show, with explosive choreography and great props. A true standout for me was seen best during this number. Johnathan McNamee is a character actor if I’ve ever seen one. He was hilarious as one of the chefs, jumping all over the stage and making wacky faces. He is someone who you have no choice but to watch throughout scenes he is in.
There were many other outstanding voices in the show. Ben Long (Prince Eric) had a very calming voice and Stacy DiCandilo (Ariel) has a pure voice that really should be heard by all. The two of them, with the addition of Sebastian and Richard Johnson (King Triton), performed an endearing version of “If Only” that easily became the best vocal number of the show. Ella Grossman (Flounder) was the first to give me chills during “She’s in Love” with her pure and innocent performance. The voices of the mersisters were strongest in that number. The harmonies between the sisters did not always land, but individually they all sounded good. I enjoyed the actresses more so when they were doubling as princesses because they looked like they were having more fun. Carli Anderson (Aquata) and Sarah Leakey (Attina) stood out best amongst them. Shelli Haynes Ezold portrayed Ursula fittingly with her impressive acting skills. Her speaking voice is exactly what you would imagine Ursula sounding like.
The talent on the stage is undeniable and there are many great qualities about this show. They do outnumber the less magnificent aspects, but not as they were expected to. Overall, the show was enjoyable to watch because the actors had great stage presence and made the experience fun. Any child would love the show’s vibrant colors and their favorite characters. Disney’sThe Little Mermaid runs at the The Players Club of Swarthmore for 2 more weekends, so grab your tickets and your kids before you miss your chance!
[Photos by Rose Azreal]
Caleb Duffy is a 2013 graduate of West Chester University with a Bachelor of Arts. He has been a professional actor and choreographer in the Philadelphia and Chester Counties, as well as in Delaware and New Jersey.